I always enjoy the rare moments with students that Tina talked about. They are part of what makes teaching worth while. But I have another experience, much more common, that is both odd and a little awkward. It goes something like this:
Student: Hi, Professor Khan!
Shamus: Hi. How are you?
Student: Fine… [long pause]
Shamus: What’s up?
Student: Nothing much… [pause]
Shamus: Um, how’ve you been?
Student: Good… [pause… continues to look at me expectantly]
Shamus: Good to hear [pause… waiting for a topic, or a question]… well, talk to you later.
Student: [surprised, even a little disappointed] Oh, okay. Bye…
Here’s the thing: I think students are so used to me standing in front of them talking that when they later encounter me they expect me to, well, talk. And by contrast my thinking is, “You stopped me. I don’t really have that much to say.” I don’t mean that in a nasty way. But I generally believe that the onus is on the initiator of the contact to start a conversation. Now I know, students are a little intimidated by professors. So often they aren’t good at carrying conversations. But neither am I. I think that they get the wrong impression of what interactions will be like with me on the basis of my lectures. Like I always have something to say. That when we interact I do all the talking. That I’m happy talking. But I find that my lectures are performances that are quite different from my everyday life.
Where these experiences are particularly awkward are at social spaces, like restaurants and bars.