Friendly professors a surprise for international students
For French exchange student Victor Vimeney, American student-teacher relationships were a culture shock.
“It’s surprising how more friendly teachers are here — they smile, they make jokes, they actually listen to what you have to say and they don’t mind being asked questions,” said Vimeney, a logistics management student.
“When you give a good answer, they encourage you, and when you give a wrong one, they encourage you,” Vimeney said.
Vimeney said he thinks teachers at OU generally are more available for their students than his teachers were in France.
“[OU professors] give you their email, their phone number. ... They always say, ‘Don’t hesitate to contact me,’” he said. “In France, they would say, ‘Don’t contact me unless it’s really important.’”
The stark contrast may come from the more active distinction between professional life and private life, but the difference is that at OU, it’s OK to talk about non-class-related topics, Vimeney said.
French foreign language student Sidonie Monier also noticed the difference.
“After a class, the teacher proposed a few of us to go and have a chat in his office. It seemed a bit weird; I wasn’t expecting that from a teacher,” Monier said.
The interaction covered more than the class.
“There’s even a student who came in the office in tears, and we comforted her all together,” Monier said. “In the end, going to his office was a great way to know not only the teacher but other students from the same class.”
Many exchange students at OU like the American teaching style better, and one even had the opportunity to adopt these teaching methods.
Matthieu Desmaison, a former exchange student, decided to stay at OU to work as a French instructor.
“Last year, I watched how teachers were behaving with me, and that helped me know how I could behave with my students this year,” Desmaison said.
Most of Desmaison’s students are close in age, so finding a balance between being a professor and a friend is tricky.
“I’m trying not to mix my friends and my students. I won’t add them on Facebook or take their number,” Desmaison said.
Desmaison adapted his teaching style to match what he liked about American professors.
“I’m teaching more the American way. Even grade-wise, let’s say, I’m nice,” he said.
Some professors maintain that style because of habit.
“I’m just old, and I’m doing things my way,” said David Miller, aerospace and mechanical engineering professor.
Miller said his habit of joking began long ago.
“When I started teaching, I was 26, and I was only a few years older than my students,” Miller said. “I got my hair down my shoulders, I was extremely scruffy looking and I wore ripped jeans and T-shirts. So I guess I was much more informal than now.”
Whereas some teachers don’t take the liberty to be too casual, Miller said he doesn’t have that problem.
“A lot of teachers who are short, female or maybe from minorities tend to be more formal to get the respect they deserve,” Miller said. “But for me, I don’t think that people calling me ‘Dr. Miller’ or ‘David’ would change anything.”
Sociology professor Trina Hope said teachers develop a special connection with their students.
“My relationship with my students is like the one with my kids — warm and friendly but also strict and with high expectations,” Hope said. “I show that I care about them, but I’m a tough teacher. I make them work hard.”
For Hope, if the students can connect with the teacher, they can connect with the material. As a result, she said she doesn’t hesitate to crack jokes and laugh with students.
As a professor, Hope said she doesn’t forget the purpose of her class, but laughing and teaching is a method of interacting with students.
“‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’ — that’s what Mary Poppins said, right?” she asked.