Should students call teachers by their first names?
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.c
“Graduating teachers build effective relationships with their learners.”
What’s in a name?
Well if you are teacher a lot more than what’s on your birth certificate.
I remember being back in primary school where one of my teachers wistfully remarked that the students at a school he visited called their teachers ‘sir’ while in high school I called some of my teachers by their first names. My ex partner’s daughter went to a school where everyone, including the principal, was on a first name basis with their students. The school I am currently doing my placement at had a first-name policy many moons ago only to go back to having students call teachers Mr/Ms/Mrs Surname.
Most of the arguments for teacher sticking with using surnames end to focus on the idea of promoting authority. Using honourifics reminds everyone that the teacher is then senior and as a result gets a title, while the learner is subservient and is called by their forename. According to some supporters, teachers who let their students call them by their first name are responsible for the dumbing down of our education system and the destruction of society as we know it.
However there are some compelling arguments for teaching ditching the old tradition of Mr/Mrs. Firstly it is merely a reflection of a change in society at large for instance, my GP prefers that I call her by her first name and the only people that I would probably to refer to as Mr/Ms Lastname outside of school would be members of the older generation.*
There’s also an argument to be made for consistency. Most teachers in early childhood centres tend to be on a first name basis with their students and it seems a bit odd for a sudden shift towards honourifics once children reach school moreover it sends a rather strange message to students that teachers demand the use of honorifics but that courtesy is sometimes not extended to other members of the school staff such as caretakers and office workers. There’s also the whole Mrs/Ms/Miss debate which I will sidestep for this post (but reflexively flinch whenever I’m called Mrs or Miss). However the most compelling reason is that ditching honourifics helps teachers to create a bond with their students and a more inclusive classroom environment.
Although theoretically I’m drawn to the idea of being being known by my first name, I still find myself wanting to be known as Ms Lastname. However it is not an issue of respect. I’ve come to the conclusion that for me at least, using Ms Lastname has not been about gaining respect from my students. For me respect is something that teachers earn rather than gain through virtue of their position. In fact I would go as far to say that if the only way you can command respect is through your name, then you may not deserve as much respect as you believe. A name is not the only way to command respect, but it is one way to show respect. Saying please and thank you, listening to instructions and taking constructive criticism are far more important than a name.
For me it is an issue of privacy.
From the moment I enter the school gates I am no longer a person, I am a trainee teacher. I need to be ‘on’ at all times. I don’t swear, I seldom lose my temper. I will hear my name called hundreds of times a day. I give so much of myself to my students that when I come home at the end of the day all I want to do is skulk off to watch TV without interruption for a hour to stop being a student teacher and back to being me.
But who am I?
My parents have a pet name for me, my nickname is used by my friends, my full first name is what my co-workers tend to use while Ms Lastname is usually reserved for official correspondence and at the moment for students. Just about everyone will have several suits of identity which dictate how much of themselves they are willing to share with others.
For the moment, my first name is a part of my identity that I wish to keep private from students. Obviously if I was employed in a school where there was a first name policy, I’d be on a first name basis with my student but I’m not pushing to ditch them either.
*Though at my last workplace I referred to many of my co-workers and boss by honourifics.
Posted on April 27, 2011, in GTS, teacher ethics, teaching and learning and tagged calling teachers by their first name, New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standards, student teacher, teacher education. Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.