Remember in grade school when you thought your teacher had a pull-out bed underneath her desk and a secret closet somewhere among the textbooks and art supplies full of only school-appropriate sweaters and sensible shoes? Some time since then you’ve probably realized teachers live normal lives like the rest of us. Still, the shock of seeing your Philosophy professor walking down the same street you stumbled down at 2 a.m. with a slice of greasy pizza in your hand hasn’t really worn off. You assume professors lead their normal lives in a different galaxy or alternate universe from your normal life. Unfortunately, your college professor shares your college town and you’ll likely cross paths with them some time outside of the classroom. Don’t fear this awkward encounter: tackle it (the situation, not your professor) head on with these tips.
At The library
What Not to Do: Throw down a shelf of books to create a diversion and then run away.
Seeing your professor at the library is most common place for a run-in. The setting mimics a classroom, so your teacher shouldn’t look too out of context here. Think seeing an apple in a bowl of oranges versus an apple in a toolbox. “If I saw my professor in the library, I’d either run and hide so they don’t see me not studying for their class, or pretend like I’m deep and in thought about…their class, like I’m really enjoying what I’m learning,” University of Iowa sophomore Abby Rouse said. Sure, your studying may feel interrupted by the presence of your teacher, kind of like when your mom would watch you while you cleaned your room to make sure you did a good job, but you can still have a pleasant interaction with your professor at the library. Put down your books and give a friendly wave. If they stop by to say hello, politely rush the conversation along by commenting on all of the books spread out in front of you.
In the grocery store
What Not to Do: Frantically scramble to cover the booze, tampons, condoms or other embarrassing purchases in your shopping cart.
First of all, stop riding the shopping cart like a scooter through the aisles. Second, maybe you should cover up the embarrassing purchases, but subtly. While your professor is busy trying to find a ripe avocado or stealing grapes out of the bag, go down another aisle without screeching the wheels of the shopping cart like you’re in Fast and Furious 42. If you happen to make unfortunate eye contact with your professor, friendly conversation shouldn’t make you want to jump right into the pyramid display of toilet paper. Let’s be real, all grocery store small talk is awkward. Everyone just wants to get the conversation over with so they can go spend twenty minutes deciding between Doritos and Cheetos in the chip aisle, so this conversation should be as short and sweet as the samples they keep by the bakery.
Where You See Them: the bar or a party
What Not to Do: Ask them to do a shot with you because “your liver is as tanked as the grade they gave you.”
Avoid. All. Contact. Professors and students should never intentionally break the unwritten code of “don’t drink with the person who handles your GPA.” Nothing you say to a professor at a bar could ever go over well, so the best tactic is to change location. Hide in the bathroom or somehow conjure up a fake mustache and accent to disguise yourself. “Whether or not you should talk to your professor depends on the situation. If they’re with people and it would be rude to interrupt, or if you’re smashed on a Friday night you’d probably want to avoid them,” University of Iowa sophomore Gabrielle Perruzzi said. Luckily, as the young and wild college student you are, you have the upper hand here. That professor should be at home, doing adult things like laundry, cleaning the garbage disposal and grading your quiz from last week. So who are they to judge?
While you’re on a date
What Not to Do: Blow out the romantic candle, throw your date over your shoulder and run out of there like an NFL player going for a touchdown
The rules of dates will save you from this conversation. If you and your significant other look like you’re on a date, it would be rude for your professor to interrupt that. Just pretend like your heart eyes are blocking your vision and you can’t see the very unromantic image of your professor in the distance. “I would probably just smile and continue on with what I was doing. Unless I was close to them or had had a good connection with them, I would not stop to talk or introduce my date to them either,” Perruzzi said. If he brings it up in class, of course you’ll have to deal with the awkwardness. Until then, the personal lives of students should stay separated.
As you walk down the street
What Not to Do: Walk into oncoming traffic
If you’re making your way downtown, walking fast and your professor’s face passes and you’re homebound, walk faster. Wave politely and maybe shout out a casual greeting, but like your professor may have taught you, objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and his presence isn’t a strong enough force to stop that motion. Just keep swimming right away from any awkward conversation. “At first it was awkward, only because I did a double take,” Westendorf said about running into her professor. “Then it was easy going and we exchanged hellos, his daughter even waved at me.” See? Some professor spottings can end pleasantly, without any hyperventilating or cringing.