No More Nickname: “Drew” is Dead, Long Live Mr. Gilbert!

I’ve never been much for nicknames. However, in October 2007 when I began teaching for DeVry University in Bakersfield, students in my first class affectionately (well, I think it was affectionately) bestowed the nickname “Drew” upon me.

Apparently some of my students felt I resemble comedian, actor and current host of The Price is Right, Drew Carey. I don’t know if this is really a compliment, but I am not sure it is a good thing to look like him (maybe looking like him when he was in the Marines is okay)!

Sure, I am a male Caucasian with a few extra pounds and glasses, but Drew Carey is definitely not my doppelgänger. Brad Pitt, maybe, but Drew Carey, not a chance! Incidentally, a colleague claims I remind him of George Clooney. As much as I would like to embrace that idea, I am realistic enough to know that if I had to choose between the two options, I certainly (and sadly?) resemble Drew Carey much more than George Clooney.

In the months since my “nickname knighting” I embraced my alternate identity, feeling it was a humorous way to relate to my students and provide some comic relief. I felt as if I had been accepted by my students and the nickname, regardless of what it actually was, served as an outward indicator of their “approval” of me in their social circle. The nickname was a way to break the ice and help them learn. I didn’t mind that the joke was on me if enabling them to call me it allowed them to overcome their fears about higher education.

With the start of each new session I would introduce myself as “Mr. Gilbert, but you can also call me Drew.” Initially, during the first few months after the school opened — when my classes consisted primarily of many of the same students (with a few new additions each session) — the nickname seemed harmless enough.

However, over the past few months the campus has grown exponentially. Impressively there are students and even new faculty members who I now barely know — it is an exciting time to be on campus. Classes have grown to healthy sizes and I no longer see that initial group of students quite as often.

With the start of the most recent session, suddenly introducing myself as “Drew” seemed awkward — as if the joke was old and no longer funny. Although a few students who were in on the initial naming were still around, I felt like most of the students to whom I told my nickname simply didn’t get it.

They seemed to wonder why, if my last name is Gilbert and my first name is Matthew, was I telling them to call me Drew? Besides, having “two first names” is confusing enough — sometimes a student is unsure if I am “Mr. Gilbert” or “Mr. Matthew.” Why make things harder than they need to be?!

Most importantly, I began to realize that there is a reason for titles and formally addressing someone. I am not big on pulling rank, but I did start to feel that having my students address me with my nickname was too casual — and doing so was starting to erode my authority in the classroom. It was not an overt feeling, just an anecdotal realization.

Sure, I enjoy creating a fun and welcoming classroom environment, but just as I know that parents can’t always be a friend to their children, teachers can’t always be friends with their students. Sometimes someone needs to be in charge — even if its just to keep things on track. I therefore decided to kill off my “Drew” nickname as of Monday, July 28, 2008. May it rest in peace. Burial services will be private. In lieu of flowers please PayPal cash donations!

I am still fine with my “old” students still referring to me as “Drew” because they created the nickname and it still seems to work with them as a term of endearment. Conversely I prefer that students now call me Mr. Gilbert or Mr. G — which I like because years ago my grandfather, after whom I try to model my life, was often called “Mr. G.” But really, either is fine so long as I am no longer called “Drew.”

Drew is dead. Long live Mr. Gilbert!