Life at university is tough enough already, the last thing a student needs is an awkward public encounter with their tutor. Claire Ince and Elizabeth Symington talk to the experts.
If you’ve ever accidentally stumbled upon one of your tutors or lecturers outside of uni, you’re all too familiar with the tidal wave of anxiety that runs through your body when you realize that you may have to interact with them.
The scenarios are endless; you might have just walked into the cinema and saw your tutor leaving 50 Shades Freed alone. You might be working and have your lecturer come in for a bra fitting. Or you might spot them driving past as you are throwing up in the gutter outside King Street Hotel on a Friday night.
Either way, the encounter will be awkward (if you are one of the lucky people that have never experienced this, we bow down to you, you lucky, lucky students).
The resulting interaction typically plays out in one of two ways:
- You succumb to the awkwardness and try your best to interact with them in a suitable and non-embarrassing fashion.
- You make a break for it, act like they are not there, hope that they didn’t see you, and pray that the non-interaction will not be brought up in your next class.
While it’s almost always awkward from a student’s perspective, putting ourselves in the shoes of the tutor, lead us down a path of intense realization; the encounter doesn’t just involve you.
So, what do the tutors think?
Instead of allowing our persistent mind flailing to continue, we decided to put on our investigation hats, and ask some of our current and past tutors to comment on the issue.
P.S. We risked embarrassing ourselves in front of those who determine our GPA’s, so you better read every word of this (or you’ll be hit with an awkward encounter as karmic retribution).
Meet the experts;
Dr Simon Weaving
- Lecturer in Communication and Media
- Doesn’t mix with ‘frightful oiks’
- A real treasure
- Associate Lecturer in the School of Creative Industries
- Lover of politeness
- Boss lady
Dr Michael Sala
- PhD in Creative Writing
- “Immune to awkward social situations”
- Perpetual daydreamer
Dr Harry Criticos
- Casual Academic
- Stans Lycra
- Excels at Banter
- Casual Academic
- Lives for validation (and actually deserves it)
- Mistakenly believes Camp Rock is superior to High School Musical
Dr. Janet Fulton
- Senior Lecturer and Communication Researcher
- Likes to say “hello”
- Might actually be a superhero
Question 1: Is it appropriate for a student to approach you in an informal manner in a public space? Why or why not?
“Ah, yes, good question. I prefer the younger members of society to bow or curtsy when approaching in public. Please wear sturdy shoes and wash.
No PDA within 10 meters. If perchance I’m deeply engaged in conversation, happily sipping my G&T, or engrossed in the latest copy of ‘Important People Magazine’ whilst at a bar, do not yell out,
“Geez, it’s Simo! Your shout, mate! You promised me you’d buy one in last week’s tutorial!”
I may have made this promise, but look, I didn’t really mean it. I don’t mix with frightful oiks or people who wear pluggas in the middle of winter. I have standards you know.”
“Absolutely. We are human you know. However, the one proviso is ‘no work talk’ i.e. Uni. There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s not at an informal setting.”
I like to switch off at 5 pm on Friday. We have lives outside of the University, and we don’t operate on Uni time 7 days a week, especially during the breaks.”
Say hello, have a chat. I’ve encountered students who work at cafés around Newcastle – in my Lycra while riding my pushy – yeah, not a pretty sight I know, but that’s my life outside of Uni. I know they may feel uncomfortable, so I try to engage in conversation with those students to let them know ‘yes, we can have a conversation’.
Why ignore each other? Why not talk to each other? We know you have lives outside of Uni as well, and that it’s not easy trying to hold down a job and do a degree. We’ve all been there.”
“I’m very happy for students to come and say hello but it does depend on the context. Please don’t ask me how your marks are going when you’re about to serve me my dinner.”
I do love running into ex-students, particularly when they let you know how they’re going.”
“Depends what your definition of informal is. Approaching me outside of uni isn’t overly different to inside it. As long as students aren’t acting like total jerks by saying how much they loathed my class in front of my family and friends, it doesn’t faze me.”
By all means, say how great I am in public, my need for validation knows no bounds!”
Question 2: What’s more awkward; a student approaching you, or a student blatantly ignoring you? Why?
“Ignoring me. Look, I know I have a reputation amongst students, and there are some that would not want to engage with me (insert sad face and rivers of tears here)…. fair enough.
It bothers me more when it happens on campus than off! A wave or a ‘smile’ is enough to say ‘yep saw you, but don’t want to talk’. Also, me being me, chances are if I know that you blatantly ignored me in public when we’ve made eye contact, then be on your best behavior in the tutorial that follows the encounter, you never know what I might say or do (insert evil face and evil laugh here).
Chances are, I’m the one most likely to run away from you if I see you. Unfortunately, there are times when I’m not wearing my glasses, so I can’t always spot you from a distance, and well, too late to run then. (Is there a sarcasm font that can be used for that sentence? If not, comic sans will suffice)”
“Seriously, I’m six foot tall, don’t pretend you didn’t see me! Show some manners and respect: say hello, be polite but keep it brief.
And don’t ask about your grades or whinge about your classmates.”
“It has to be a student making eye contact, recognizing where they know you from, but still not acknowledging you.
I’m fine for a student-teacher interaction to not be acknowledged or even just a basic head nod ‘sup’; but when someone you taught sees you walking out of Fifty Shades Freed (by yourself) and doesn’t acknowledge it, that’s way worse.”
“Neither. I am naturally so awkward as a human being that I am usually immune to awkward social situations. Plus, I frequently walk past people without noticing them.
The only awkward thing is when someone waves at you and you wave back before realizing that they were waving at someone behind you. Or trying to have a conversation with more than two different people at once.”
“Please say hello… or nod. Your lecturer won’t want to stop and have a social chat for 10 minutes so a smile is OK as you pass each other.
A student studiously looking the other way and then tripping because they weren’t watching where they were going is pretty funny. It can, though, be slightly awkward when a student obviously knows who I am and is happy to chat but I can’t for the life of me remember who they are. I’ve had hundreds of students over the years but I’m still happy if someone says hello.”
Question 3: Do you have any other thoughts on the topic?
“Each semester, teachers get a whole new roll of kids. If you’ve been teaching for multiple years that number tends to build up and the only ones you remember are for being really great or the exact opposite.
If I don’t remember you years after you were in my class, it’s the equivalent of a student being asked to explain what the dialogic turn is after they’ve submitted the essay.”
“In a small town such as Newcastle, it is important to know one’s place and keep one’s distance.
I mean I wouldn’t be rushing up to the Queen and slapping her on the back and inviting her out for fish and chips at Merewether, or a Corona and a fish taco at the local Mexican in Carrington.
And there’s nothing at all wrong with pretending you’ve never met someone you know when you come across them randomly in the street, or lying in the street, or feeling unwell in the gutter. I mean we all mostly pretend we like each other anyway when it’s mostly not true, so why not wear your disdain with pride and honesty. Proudly, authentically disdainful, that’s the spirit.
And one last thing… when I’m walking along Honeysuckle taking in the night air and musing on the week’s adventures, please DO NOT drive past and scream at me from your vehicle window. I mean WHO DOES THAT! Apart from frightful oiks and people who wear pluggas in Winter.”
“I don’t like to interrupt people when they’re in the middle of something, even if it appears to be a thought.
My personal persona is much more reclusive and shy than my teacher persona. Sometimes I am so deep in my thoughts that it can take minutes or hours for me to realize someone was waving at me and that they knew me and that I knew them.
Sometimes all people will see from me is a blank stare. I hope they don’t take it personally.”
“Remember, I [and other tutors] have a life too!
I don’t tell you about my dog’s diarrhea either, do I?
The worst thing would be running into a student at a party where everyone is ‘letting their hair down’ – that should definitely be a student and mobile phone free zone.”
If you see a lecturer or tutor out in the real world, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I wearing pluggas?
- Is either of you leaving a screening of an R-rated film?
- Did you participate in class?
- Are they likely to remember you?
- Are they unlikely to notice if you ignore them?
If you answer ‘no’ to all of the above questions; congratulations!
You must now attempt to engage in social interactions.
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the above questions; run and never show your face in class again.
Feature Image: Claire Ince and Elizabeth Symington