I try to be not only a good teacher but also a good friend for my students.

  • I tell them that they can call me by my first name even in the formal colloquiums.
  • I give them a personal phone number to call me about their math questions anytime.
  • I try to spend some time each week/month for riding bicycles or watching a match with them.
  • I ask about their possible personal problems and offer my help when I think there is a meaningful descending change on their grades.
  • And so on.

Once one of my colleges told me:

You pay too much attention to your students. They are just a part of your job as a university teacher. Your informal relations with students could be harmful for you and makes our job too hard because they expect all of us to treat them as like as you but we cannot respond this expectation properly and so they will think that we don't care them.

Question. How formal should I be as a university teacher? Can my informal behavior with my students have some disadvantages for me, my colleges, my students and my department?

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    $\begingroup$ What's with the down vote? This isn't Meta. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Mar 27 '14 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps this belongs on academia.se? $\endgroup$ – Brendan W. Sullivan Mar 27 '14 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @brendansullivan07 While we had a meta-agreement that a question need not be strictly a mathematics eucation question, but we welcome more general question, I still feel we should not have too many very general questions. I answered myself the "kissing problem," which is just as general, and possibly this was a mistake in retrospect. Please, if you have many more such general questions, do not ask them all here, at least not at this rate. $\endgroup$ – quid Mar 27 '14 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ @GitGud I down-voted the post. The question is literally phrased as: "How formal should I be as a university teacher?" I find this to be far (far) too broad and not at all specific to mathematics education. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Dickman Mar 27 '14 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ I think, the question belongs to academic.SE. $\endgroup$ – Markus Klein Mar 27 '14 at 19:41

This heavily depends on the culture that you are in. In the USA it is common for students to address their teacher by last name. If the teacher has a Ph.D., then you would call them Dr. Lastname. If the person has a military rank, then the rank overrules the academic degree. Even in the USA some schools have a tradition of being more informal.

If you are from Europe, then there might be a different culture. If you are is South Korea, then there is a different culture.

And there different cultures in different departments.

So it is impossible to answer how formal a university teacher should be with his/her students.

I think a good piece of advice (that I once got) is to ask your colleges about what they do. Go talk to your chairperson about what the standard is and the don't deviate from that. If one teacher is very formal with her students and you are very informal that might (I say might) create some conflict in a department. Students might think of the other teacher as being more strict and ask questions like "Why isn't she more like ...". You don't want that.

That said, here are some things that are worth considering when you are trying to figure out how formal/informal you want to be:

  • Does being more informal with student cause a problem if you have to report the student for academic misconduct in the future?
  • Does being more informal put you at risk for sexual harassment? (You really want to take this one seriously!
  • Does being more informal promote learning?
  • Does being more informal put me at odds with the other faculty?
  • Am I so close in age to my students that I might prefer to create a distance by being very formal?
  • Is my school an exclusive private school where formality is assumed?
  • Are my students underprivileged and might they actually benefit from be showing an interest in their personal lived?
  • Will my students take advantage of a personal relationship?

(You can probably add more to this list yourself). Again: This is all culture dependent. The answers are going to look different.

  • $\begingroup$ It is a really nice answer! I have a question here. Is it really necessary for a faculty member to follow the local culture of his/her university or being formal/informal in relations with students lies in the area of personal choice of each person? $\endgroup$ – user230 Mar 27 '14 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg: I think that it is a combination of both. You don't have to follow the culture where you are. I would ask yourself the questions that I listed above. If being "too different" will cause problems in the department, then I would hesitate, but the department might have a very diverse culture already and so you might be fine. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Mar 27 '14 at 19:35