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I'm relatively new to teaching (I was just hired as a tenure-track English professor at a local community college and have been teaching for just about 2 years). I recently received an email from a male student (he is in his mid-50's), and he addressed me as follows:

A great morning to you my dear lass,

Now, the email was complimentary. He thanked me for teaching a great course and said that he learned a lot in my class (all of these things are nice to hear). He has, at times, been difficult to teach (he questions academic conventions regarding basic essay structure, such as not beginning or ending a body paragraph with a quote), but he eventually concedes and makes the necessary adjustments (I am teaching a developmental writing course).

Usually.

I was just a little surprised by his choice of greeting. I am not overly familiar with my students, and I am not young (I am a divorced, 40-year-old woman). I like this student, and I am unsure of how to address this (or if I even should...) situation without causing offense. I feel certain he didn't mean to sound condescending and sexist, but... I also feel certain that if I was a 40-year-old male professor he would not have began his email with "A great morning to you my dear lad."

I would really appreciate any advice concerning how to address this issue. Additionally, I am teaching a combo course, and we just completed the first half, so he will continue to be my student for another 8 weeks.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please leave further comments there (they are liable to be deleted if left here). – ff524 Mar 13 '17 at 0:19
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    I added the tag united-states, because (i) there are no community colleges in the United Kingdom, (ii) in comments (some now moved to chat) the OP has clarified that the student is American and (iii) many many people seem to want to lecture this English professor on what "lass" means to certain British people. – Pete L. Clark Mar 14 '17 at 1:13
  • Please take discussion to chat! We are only able to migrate comments once; further comments not focusing on the question itself will be removed. – eykanal Mar 16 '17 at 20:02
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    This question has gotten, IMO, way too much attention. It's the equivalent of the Stackoverflow questions which are pretty simple and every second person on the site seems to want to give a similar answer - and it all gets massively upvoted. No offense to OP of course. – einpoklum Mar 19 '17 at 21:01

14 Answers 14

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Personally, I would address it in a friendly way, but one that makes it clear that you think it's a bit of an odd form of greeting. It doesn't sound like it was intended in an unfriendly or disrespectful way (and I definitely wouldn't characterise it as sexist), but it does sound inappropriately overfamiliar (it would be a bit like one of my students starting an email to me with "Dude! ...").

The easiest way to deal with it, to my mind, is just to send a fairly normal-sounding (but obviously more formal) email back, and mention it in passing in a friendly way at the end. For example:

Dear <name>,

Many thanks for your email - really glad to hear that you've been learning a lot from the course. It's been good to see the improvements in your essay structure since the start of the course - I'm hoping that you'll be able to solidify those improvements over the next 8 weeks.

Kind regards,

<name>

p.s. Just a friendly piece of advice - whilst I'm not generally too fussy about people addressing me formally, I think I should probably steer you away from things like "my dear lass", not least because some people if addressed that way might take it the wrong way and get offended. I'm fine with people calling me by my first name (if the OP actually is), but I think that's stretching things too far.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 19 '17 at 14:48
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I would simply reply:

Dear Student, thank you for your email -- I really appreciated it -- but in the future please avoid addressing professors in an unprofessional way, like "lass" or "lad".

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    I deleted my answer because I didn't notice the student is 50 years old. I believe this answer is more polite. – Avery Mar 12 '17 at 10:26
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    If the student's from a culture where "lass" is a more common expression, it may be appropriate to qualify the term as inappropriate within the context of the current culture. – Nat Mar 12 '17 at 10:34
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    I'd add to the answer: "(...) and please don't refer to professors/teachers as 'my' and also not as 'my dear'." – Gottfried Helms Mar 12 '17 at 12:36
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    Straight to the source and the point is best, I agree. Literally just the other day a colleague called me "sweetheart" and I told her right away I'd rather be called something else in the future. She apologized and admitted right away it was a poor choice of words. At least the first time it's easiest for everyone to just call it out and see how they take it. If it never happens again, then problem solved without any annoying paperwork. – Todd Wilcox Mar 12 '17 at 18:19
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    @EdmundReed I think that Gottfried is suggesting to avoid the usage of my when speaking or writing to the professor, not to a third party. You can certainly say "my teacher" when speaking with friends, but avoid saying that when speaking to the teacher. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 13 '17 at 20:29
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I am sorry to add an answer to an already cluttered question, but I am worried that many of the answers are delivered by people that are outsiders to American academic culture and seem to have missed that the question concerns this.

American academic culture, while overtly low key in many ways, is most often very sensitive to people being addressed appropriately. It is also by now highly sensitized to the phenomenon of students not dealing with female faculty in parallel or equally respectful ways to male faculty. This is not the place to debate whether this is right or wrong (though I will reveal that I think it's right), but if you are not or have never been a graduate student or faculty member at an American institution, I think it is very likely that you do not properly appreciate how big a social error it is to treat female faculty in non-parallel ways and especially ways which could be construed as (i) overly familiar, (ii) belittling or (iii) sexual/romantic.

If you look at the dictionary definitions of "lass" (supplied in another answer), both of them are problematic by the above standards. Emphasizing the age or marital status of a female faculty member is overly familiar and/or belittling. Describing a female faculty member as a potential sweetheart would be seriously problematic: at many universities, this is in the ballpark of sexual harassment.

There is a good chance that the student chose the wrong words and does not mean anything ill, and I would also counsel the OP not to assume the worst. (Or rather, I would if I thought it necessary: as her comments make clear, it isn't.) However, let me be firm that the student has made a mistake that does require some correction, in part for the student's own good: similar behavior could be offensive to other faculty members, and more so to some, than it was to the OP.

I also feel the need to point out that some of the other answers are themselves not so respectful to the OP. More than one answer suggested that the OP book up on the denotations and connotations of "lass." But she is an English professor! Other answers suggest that she learn more about and/or be more understanding to the student's different cultural norms. But the student is an American man in his fifties and the OP is a 40-year-old woman teaching at an American university: I am pretty confident that she has met American men in their fifties, both in various English departments and in her real life. Why she has less expertise on this front than the posters here is far from clear to me. The word mansplaining comes to mind.

Bottom line: the student is not behaving properly, and the OP should certainly correct in some way. Doing so in a way that is understanding of the fact that the student is a probably-not-evil human being is, of course, wise, but she certainly doesn't need to take any lessons in male culture.

I myself would recommend responding promptly and crisply: just tell the student how faculty at American institutions like to be addressed: as Dr. X or Professor X. It could be two lines in your email reply. If there are any further issues, you can take them as they come, but in my experience students are generally very receptive to being educated about academic culture by faculty: they know very well how little they know, and (as usual?) faculty tend to assume that students know much more than they do.

Added Later: A lot of the discussion here seems to concern whether the student has essentially good intentions. So here is a remark that I sincerely (if naively?) hope will be helpful, possibly critical. Whether the student has (in some sense, any sense or all senses) good intentions is not relevant -- not relevant either way, I mean.

In my professional opinion as a tenured American academic with my fair share of administrative/supervisory experience and responsibilities: the OP's original characterization of the email as containing a "sexist greeting" is factually correct. By that I mean that the student used language that the culture of her institution would, if consulted, formally deem inappropriately disrespectful towards women. But here's a crucial clarification: in "sexist greeting," sexist is not a noun -- it's an adjective modifying greeting.

To take a step back for context, let me phrase it this way: the problem is not that the student is a jerk. In fact, this is doubly not the problem. On the one hand, the student could very well not be a jerk and still say or do inappropriate (by the standard of American university culture) things. Some words and actions are inappropriate even if the person saying them has the best of intentions. In my personal opinion, most of the time that students say or do inappropriate things, they do them out of ignorance or some other reason than ill intent of any kind. On the other hand: from the university's perspective, a student who is a jerk is still entitled to full service, so long as he refrains from inappropriate words and actions. I have taught (just) a few students who really are jerks -- dishonest, bigoted, or otherwise distressingly wrong-thinking. That makes things hard for me, because I have to teach them anyway, and indeed I have to be very careful not to allow my personal perceptions of their jerkiness influence my treatment of them in the course. If I witness a student making a sexist greeting and ding him for it in his course grade, he can appeal the grade, and neither "He is a sexist!" or "He wrote a sexist greeting!" will hold up as a defense.

So if (as I hope she does) the OP makes the student aware of the inappropriateness of his choice of words, she is not accusing him of being a sexist (of course there is no need for her to use the word "sexist" in any form when discussing this with the student; no one here has contemplated doing so, including her); rather she is identifying inappropriate behavior and informing him about appropriate behavior. (As I said in my answer above: I think that doing the latter is sufficient, as it implicitly accomplishes the former.) Is this one sexist greeting part of a larger pattern of inappropriate behavior, possibly one that could constitute harassment of the OP? Of course, I don't know, but given that the student and the instructor have already completed a whole course and seem to be largely satisfied with each other, I see no cause for alarm about that. And certainly the OP need not worry or hesitate about the appropriateness of responding to the student as suggested above: as a few people have already pointed out, she is literally getting paid to teach this student how to develop his writing. There is no way she can get in trouble for this.

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    A note about cultures: in writing my answer I actually tried to take into account the American culture (for what I know it -- after all, I spent just a few months in the US at various times), because if I were to answer from the point of view of my culture, the reply would have been much, much more sharp and impolite toward the student. When I was a student, writing in that way to a professor would have caused a long series of fail at the exam. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 13 '17 at 20:16
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    @Massimo: Your answer is the only answer I've upvoted. The one thing I would say about it is: rather than telling the student what not to do, I would suggest telling them what to do instead. To an American ear that more "positive" answer is more polite...and also the student really might not know what they're supposed to do. But your answer is brief, direct and professional: all good things. – Pete L. Clark Mar 13 '17 at 20:31
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    @Cruncher I don't know what your experience is of British culture, but speaking as someone British, I think your scenario is unlikely. Unless by "common" you mean "common in the make believe version of Britain as depicted by characters in the show Frasier" – Yemon Choi Mar 17 '17 at 1:02
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    @YemonChoi, somehow my little comment about "mansplaining" is gone now. I don't think I removed it. Oh, well, ... – paul garrett Mar 18 '17 at 12:52
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    Why drag in such a contentious term as "mansplaining"? And have it be the sole emphasized word in your entire answer no less? Frankly that entire paragraph makes no effort to answer the question or support your own answer but is a criticism of other answers which should probably be reserved for comments on those answers. – Lilienthal Mar 20 '17 at 10:17
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Oh dear, this has hit the SE super collider. Since you're actually qualified to say if my spelling and grammar suck, my apologies in advance if any of this is written terribly.

In general, discrimination is in intent not in specific words. Since I live in the north part of England, I'm used to hearing strangers being addressed as "love", "hun" and occasionally "dear". The intent here isn't to condescend or be sexist, it's usually to open a conversation in a friendly way when you're about to ask them to do something and don't want to seem rude. Example:

Excuse me love, could you move over a little, I can't quite get past.

In this particular case, let's run through the potential ways to greet you:

  • Good morning teacher - No good, sounds like it's a form letter
  • Good morning [first name] - Inappropriate for addressing a person of authority
  • Good morning Ms [last name] - Better, but impersonal. Could be followed by "You're awesome" or "I hate you".
  • Good morning ma'am - What is this the military?

Ok, but seriously, "A great morning to you my dear lass," is certainly overly familiar, but I think it's more intended to convey "get ready, I'm about to say awesome things about you, are you sitting down and suitably braced for how awesome I think you are". I'd personally say that "A great morning to you Ms " would have been the better way approach.

If this person were British rather than American I'd interpret "my dear" as "you're a person I think highly of and are important to me", and "lass" as "woman who I want to imply seems younger than her age might actually be". I'll be fair and say that it's harder to give a similar compliment to man, since the nearest version of lass to refer to a guy would be "strapping young man"... that's a harder one to pull off. Considering in particular that he's of the older generation, I'd tend toward this being a sincere expression of thankfulness.

So how to handle it. Tactfully, very very tactfully. Don't suggest he's being sexist or condescending, that will likely not go well. Focus on the need for professionalism, that's something that can be held as a reason for the change without negative implications. Maybe something like...

Thank you for feedback, it's always good to hear students praise my teaching and let me know that the course helped them. [More specific responses to any points that need addressing in the original email].

While I'm flattered to be considered youthful, it is important for us as teachers hold a professional and impartial image with our students. Not managing to do this results in grading and feedback being seen with an unfair bias. It would really help if you could refer to me as even in correspondence. Apologies if that comes across as cold, I don't mean it to be rude.

If it turns out to be a one time thing then that would seem sufficiently handled to me.

It is, to be honest, a sad thing that modern culture makes it considerably harder to honestly flatter someone without it being interpreted as sexist or an inappropriate advance. It's even more sad that enough people do make sexist and overly forward remarks such that we default to that being the intention we infer from them.

There should really be a version of Hanlon's Razor that reads "Don't attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by social ineptitude." Well at least not until you've checked if it was meant to be insulting.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 14 '17 at 13:17
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    "discrimination is in intent not in specific words" regardless of whether or not that's true, I don't believe the crux of the question is about discrimination. Discrimination would be something that the administration of the school might do. This question is more about appropriate behavior in an academic context. The asker is bothered and even offended by the language of the student, and that response must be respected no matter what the student's intent was. – Todd Wilcox Mar 14 '17 at 16:52
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    @ToddWilcox the framing of the question was changed after I started the reply, check the revision history. The general idea I was trying to convey is that in such matters it's best not to jump straight to the worst interpretation. – Kaithar Mar 14 '17 at 23:52
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    What's wrong with an impersonal (actually formal) salutation in an email to someone you don't have a personal relationship with? – MissMonicaE Mar 15 '17 at 13:01
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    @MissMonicaE nothing really. It just feels like it reduces the authenticity of the a complimentary message if it's starting with a very stiff opening. The name isn't the best way to do it though. – Kaithar Mar 15 '17 at 16:10
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A 14 year old's classmates formed little groups for making teachers day cards for an affable female teacher. Many of them wrote "we love you" in their handmade cards. This guy didn't get group mates to help him make cards, so he made his own card and in all his innocence, wrote the same sentence as "I love you". He didn't mean it the way lovers do. He was just rephrasing the sentence in singular. He respected his teacher as a teacher. It was only much later he realized what he wrote.

Since we don't know the person who sent you that email, and what culture he comes from, the best I can judge and say from what you wrote, is to not reply to the email yet. Odd emails or letters are usually not honoured with a reply. Also, emails are very poor communicators of emotion, so it can sour relationships unnecessarily if interpreted wrongly.

Instead, the next time you meet the person, be pleasant, thank him for the compliment and casually ask (not in front of the other students) about his use of the word "lass", also gently mentioning your opinion on the use of the word and the decorum that you or your institution expects between teacher and student.

You also need to be informed about the word itself, so there are these and perhaps more if you search:
1. Lass on Dictionary.com
2. Lass as a word choice in ELL.

EDIT: I'm saddened by comments and downvotes targeting the fact that I gave a dictionary reference to an English professor. As responsible professionals (any profession), we always make it a point to refer the sources of information and keep these sources handy, instead of keeping our ego ahead of us. All I did was give the professor references which might help her understand other points of view compared to the original definition. It was in no way underestimating her capability or knowledge.

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    I like the advice to not reply by email. I have had a personal experience of an email conversation gone wrong which destroyed the relation to the person. I do not fully understand what happened to this day. Sound advice. – Peter A. Schneider Mar 13 '17 at 0:41
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    But it is important to talk to them. – Cullub Mar 13 '17 at 14:28
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    -1 since you are telling an ENGLISH professor to look up a word in a dictionary (I think it's safe to say she knows how those work) and telling her to take a disrespectful greeting as a compliment, since the student might have meant well. – Johanna Mar 15 '17 at 13:04
  • @Nav There's no mention or indication that the professor take the disrespectful part of the email as a compliment You literally wrote "thank him for the compliment". – user9646 Mar 16 '17 at 8:25
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    @NajibIdrissi "Now, the email was complimentary. He thanked me for teaching a great course and said that he learned a lot in my class" – Nav Mar 16 '17 at 10:00
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Contrary to the other answers, I do not think that an explicit sentence like «It's not appropriate to refer to you teacher as lass(...)» is a good first step.

I would recommend a more gradual course of action.

First, reply to his mail in a more formal way, but without stating that what he's done is something wrong. For example, in the greetings, and ending of the letter, if you're formal, it's usually enough. Let's see if he can take the hint. Remember that because he's 50, and depending on his background, and also on the previous rapport between you two, the world may seem very different to him. If this more subtle approach doesn't work after a couple of mails, then I would be more explicit, and firm, but always respectful.

My main advice is, never go in like bulldozer. You need tact, and sensibility.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 14 '17 at 13:17
  • Don't wait for a "couple of mails". When I have this issue I hint it in the first reply. If they stick with their informal ways I point it out in the second reply - friendly but clearly. – Patric Hartmann Mar 18 '17 at 22:58
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He sounds like a great and rewarding student teach. Probably he intended to say "Now that the course is over we can be friends" by that greeting. By being too familiar he is probably trying to break previous student-teacher wall and referring to you as a younger lady is probably just meant as a compliment.

Knowing that you taught him writing and you had disputes, this greeting might also be a reference to some dispute or a parody of something that was discussed in the course. Some people like dropping such references in a semifunny way and maybe you just didn't get it?

Now how should you respond? If you find him creepy after such a letter, respond "Thank you for the feedback. I appreciate your kind words." or something like that.

But, if you still like the student, you are still divorced and he is just a bit older than you, I'd say go for it :) I suggest you start your response with "Well thank you kind sir!"

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    Haha!! I think he is new to college and comes from a slightly different era. The more I think on it, the more I think he really didn't mean anything by his greeting (although it was inappropriate). I'm still learning the ropes, and I've been lucky in that I've really never had to deal with overtly inappropriate student behavior just yet, so when this happened, I was a little stumped about how to handle it, if it all! I didn't want to ask my colleagues (for obvious reasons), so I thought this site would be a good way to get answers discreetly. – Kflo Mar 12 '17 at 16:02
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    By the way I see no sexism here, just being too familiar and agressively disrespecting the student-teacher distance. If you were a guy, he might start with "yo old dog" or something similarly retarded. At least I would. – Džuris Mar 12 '17 at 16:12
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    Yeah, I think you are right. I would have preferred something like, "What up, gurl? Yo, your class dropped mad knowledge bombs on my BRAIN." – Kflo Mar 12 '17 at 16:13
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    @Kflo just because he didn't mean to imply anything doesn't mean the remark cannot be sexist. If people were less sensitive about that issue it would be possible to actually have a discussion with him as to why it's hard for women not to see a pattern when being addressed casually by subordinates/students while men in the same position rarely are. – Cape Code Mar 12 '17 at 20:41
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The greeting looks inappropriate to me, but I'm not sure that pointing it out to the student is a good course of action. I often see weird email behavior from students, and I'm not sure it's my job to correct them, unless I really cannot tolerate it. Maybe the student lost a bet. Maybe he is inebriated. Maybe he thinks he is funny. I would probably simply answer with a formal "Dear X, thanks for your kind words, I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed my course, Best regards, Y", i.e., ignoring the weird greeting, and move on. If you are offended and would rather not reply in this way, one other valid option is to simply don't reply, and disregard the email.

Yes, inappropriate greetings may pose problems to the student at some later point in his life, but I don't think it's a teacher's job to educate students on proper manners, or anything not related to the class material (unless the student is really disruptive towards their fellow students or yourself).

By the way, one important question that I haven't seen addressed is whether the student is a native speaker of English. If he is not, then maybe that's a very valid reason to simply disregard inaccurate word usage. (Note: I am not a native speaker myself, so maybe I'm not appreciating correctly how inappropriate the greeting is.)

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    He's a native speaker of about 55 years of age, but I'm not going to address the greeting with the student. I came here looking for advice, and I have received the help I was looking for. I do not think he meant any harm. However, never in a million years would I have dreamed of addressing any of my professors at Berkeley, male or female, as he addressed me unless we had developed an informal relationship. But, sometimes, for the sake of our peace and sanity, we must let things go. I do not believe he meant any harm, so I will proceed as though nothing untoward happened. – Kflo Mar 12 '17 at 19:48
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    @Kflo: When writing "I often see weird email behavior from students", what I was trying to say is precisely that I often see behavior that I would never imagined doing as a student myself. I see this as Postel's law applied to real life: "Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept." – a3nm Mar 12 '17 at 19:51
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From http://www.dictionary.com/browse/lass

noun
1. a girl or young woman, especially one who is unmarried.
2. a female sweetheart:
a young lad and his lass.

Although definition number two may be going over some lines, definition number one isn't too "out of line". He's calling you young. From his perspective, you are.

From his perspective, he grew up in an era where society taught Robert Frost's "A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age." His culture does not consider calling a woman "young" to be belittling, rather that is just considered being polite.

Personally, I very much appreciate the comment just for the usage of a word which has become rather rare. Kudos to him.

Now, if you found this to be too personal for your comfort, I would just tell him. You can say

The greeting, specifically the word "lass", just didn't sit well with me.

If he recognizes current societal trends at all, he should take that as a cue to plan to back off a bit, being a bit more careful about word choice. (Whether he takes that cue or not might be a different story, but you can know that you've done what you ought to communicate this to him, without being overly harsh. You simply stated reality, and if there is any discomfort from such a statement, that discomfort of the statement derives directly from the discomfort of the reality, so that's fine.)

If you like, you can take it a step further: Since you are in a position of authority, you could even ask him to refer to you as "Prof. " (followed by your last name), or whatever other acceptable title you deem more right (Dr., Rev., Ms.), or his choice from whatever you list as acceptable. That can be a direct private instruction to just him, and you're fully entitled to treat the rest of the class different (as you deem comfortable).

  • It's rarity depends upon location. In certain parts of Britain it's alive and kicking, though used more by older generations. – Pharap Mar 13 '17 at 12:47
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    @Pharap Would it be normal to address a professor that way in such parts? – MissMonicaE Mar 15 '17 at 13:02
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    Also, can we assume that English teachers are familiar with the dictionary, please? – MissMonicaE Mar 17 '17 at 13:57
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    @MissMonicaE: Apparently we can't – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 19 '17 at 0:16
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    @MissMonicaE : I, for one, do. I also assume that when people are using the world wide web, hyperlinks can save time and be appreciated. For instance, it looks like Pete L Clark's answer refers to mine (or maybe Nav's). Also, Stack Exchange discourages link-only answers, & prefers to have content placed in the answer (as indicated by the last paragraph of Nav's answer. Of all my instructors, English instructors have been the most prone to wanting material clearly cited. Is there a problem? – TOOGAM Mar 19 '17 at 5:35
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To contribute a personal example to what has been said already: I grew up in what could be called (somewhat impolitely) a very "backwater" area isolated from the decor and culture of professional etiquette within the context of a society that is not almost uniformly deeply conservative and (United States-style) Southern. Additionally, I have Asperger's Syndrome, which makes things hard when I have to adapt to new mannerisms and different (unspoken) local traditions.

Thus, when I moved north over a decade ago, I had a habit of calling persons of a gender not my own "hun" and "sweetie," in, I think, the same sense that some men from England use the term of "endearment," "love." Additionally, whenever I wished to tell someone I had a good professional relationship with "no" to something, especially if I knew them a long time, I had the bad habit of saying things akin to "doc, you know I love you to death, but I just can't see tryin' this acupuncture business ..."

Of course, my primary care practitioner (who I've known for years and who is aware of my background and Aspergers) is neither a family member, romantic partner, nor friend beyond the capacity of someone known in a professional context. She eventually had to break it to me directly that she "knew where I came from and how tough I can have it understanding these kinds of things, but we really have to keep our language professional here, because some people may not understand and misinterpret what you mean when you say things like that."

Your situation would of course be different depending on whether or not the person has social troubles, is "stuck in old ways" (not meant to demean those who are elderly), may perhaps be wishing to pursue a relationship beyond a professional one (whether aware of it or not), and so forth, but the kind but terse response above, for me in a similar context, set me straight without causing any confusion or offense in the least.

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    Thank you, Thomas! I really appreciate your insights. It's wonderful to receive different viewpoints regarding my question. Although my student does not have any social troubles, I do get the impression that he is used to being the boss (he was, after all, a lieutenant fireman), as he sometimes has difficulty taking any kind of direction from me--especially regarding academic writing conventions. I guess I was afraid that his email greeting was another way to subtly undermine my authority as a professional composition expert--whether or not he realized he was doing so. I wanted to gain some... – Kflo Mar 12 '17 at 20:03
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    insights before I made a decision concerning how to proceed. After reading everyone's advice, I think he meant well, and I am not going to mention it to him. I am his teacher for another 8 weeks, and I will try to continue to assist him in improving his writing. Perhaps by modeling appropriate email etiquette, I can send the right message without coming right out and saying anything. – Kflo Mar 12 '17 at 20:07
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Can you make it a teachable moment, since he does seem receptive to your teaching? Think about how you might graciously and constructively correct him if he wrote something like this in a paper for your course. Is there any social situation when that casual salutation from a 50+ man to a 40+ woman would be OK? A bar on St Patrick's Day? Someone who can write that salutation has promise as a writer. You don't want to squash that. Perhaps discuss the difference context makes - in an informal conversation (not return email). I don't think this is a big deal, but it's something you want to teach him not to do in the future, when it might be for him.

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    "Someone who can write that salutation has promise as a writer" Ehhh, I don't think it shows that much creativity. – MissMonicaE Mar 13 '17 at 19:00
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    @MissMonicaE Maybe not. But the decision to use it might. – Ethan Bolker Mar 13 '17 at 19:02
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    How so? It just looks awkward and out of touch to me. – MissMonicaE Mar 13 '17 at 19:03
  • Hard to carry on a back and forth discussion in comments about style. Which of us correctly identifies whether the salutation shows some spark or is just out of touch depends on information about the writer and reader we don't have. The OP has that information, so can decide whether my suggestion is or is not a good way to follow up. – Ethan Bolker Mar 13 '17 at 19:12
  • Okay, it makes more sense to me in that light – MissMonicaE Mar 13 '17 at 19:13
2

Donning asbestos longjohns...

There was another answer, mentioned on a question by an OP who was wondering about how to respond to a student who dressed provocatively (once a bikini), and one person answering said he had taught where there were very young women whose dress was a revealing version of "stylish" rather than appropriately professional. He talked with them and they changed their work attire, but "the damage had already been done." One veteran with PTSD leaned over her desk and called her four names like "Missy," and creeped her out. When challenged, he said, "That's how we address women in the South."

On the other hand, I spent some time in England, and part of the social rules (as mentioned by other notes) meant that practically everyone lower than me on the social scale addressed me as "my love," and it was inoffensive to the point of being barely noticeable unless I specifically paid attention. None of the other international students, female or male, ever mentioned discomfort at being called "my love"; the social impact is comparable to a U.S.-situated "How are you?" (And even in the U.S., when someone I don't know very well starts off by calling me "Hun," there may be warmth but I have never found such a person taking a pass at me.)

Between these two I would try to make the point that, at least face-to-face, individual words don't creep people out; nonverbal communication that screams out "INAPPROPRIATE SITUATION" creeps people out.

What this means for email is more ambiguous, because email does the unfortunate job of stripping out nonverbal communication (though over the years people have developed SHOUTING, emphasized and strongly emphasized text, emojicons, and so on, to partly compensate for what email drops.

Now it may be advisable to take your best shot at requesting to be called "Prof." or "Ms.", but I'll take a risky guess that if he had called you "Lass" face-to-face, there would have been zero nonverbal cues either of his having a crush on you or of taking a strong move to steer your working relationship. Now if I'm right, that doesn't mean that you're wrong to do your best at explaining to him your preferred ways of being addressed, but face-to-face you might not find it any more uncomfortable than I found supermarket employees being too personal because they kept calling me, "My love."

2

The more you engage with this student, the more encouraged he will be to engage with you -- so if you feel that the student is not respecting boundaries, your email response should be succinct and neutral in tone. The student is looking for attention. You can guide the student's behavior by selectively not rewarding it.

I also feel certain that if I was a 40 year old male professor he would not have began his email with, "A great morning to you my dear lad."

Optionally, I suppose you could ask his other instructors whether they have received any emails that pushed the student-professor boundary. From your description, it sounds plausible that he very well might have used this very salutation with a 40yo male instructor.

  • 4
    I agree with the advice given in your first paragraph: a succinct, neutral response is best. I don't agree with your last paragraph: meaning, I don't agree that the OP should ask the other instructors, as the appropriateness of the action does not depend on it (see the addendum to my answer). And by the way: I am a 40yo male instructor, and if an older student wrote "A great morning to you my dear lad" to me, he would get a succinct, neutral reply suggesting appropriate modes of address. – Pete L. Clark Mar 15 '17 at 2:02
  • @PeteL.Clark - I'm not sure I understood the part that began with "the appropriateness of the action." // My last sentence isn't intended as a recommendation of what should be done. I meant that if one is curious what his emails to male instructors look like, one could compare notes with his other instructors. Maybe I should rewrite the last paragraph? – aparente001 Mar 16 '17 at 9:42
  • 1
    To me, the last paragraph read as a bit of a recommendation to do that. As I would go so far as to recommend that the OP not do this, in my opinion a rewrite of the last paragraph could [!] be helpful. – Pete L. Clark Mar 16 '17 at 13:30
  • @PeteL.Clark - I tried to make it more clearly optional. If it's still not clear, I invite you to take a stab at it. – aparente001 Mar 18 '17 at 13:47
-9

There was no sexism in that greeting, but you are spot on that it was not professional.

If you prefer he not compliment your younger age, you could say, "I appreciate the flattery Mr X. I would prefer it if you address me as Professor Y or Miss Y in the future."

Further action beyond teaching him that overly familiar greetings are not professional and are inappropriate in certain scenarios would not be good for anyone, especially your career, if you were to become known as the professor that cries wolf; becoming a liability for the school.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 15 '17 at 12:50

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