Respect, like trust, is a two-way street. If you’re not willing to give it, then you definitely don’t deserve it.”
– Attributed to Nishan Panwar
All through my own primary and secondary education, teachers were referred to as either Miss [Last Name] (regardless of whether they were a Miss or a Mrs), or for the men, as Mr [Last Name]. The same went for any adult that did not require some sort of familial moniker, such as aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa etc. That was just what was expected, because, we were told, it showed the teacher or adult respect. Now, as a teacher, I find that the same naming conventions still apply in all the schools that I have been asked to teach, and I find myself asking why?
Why do students need to refer to me as Mr Mitchell, in order to show me respect? Students can certainly be disrespectful when referring to me as Mr Mitchell, as I am sure that any secondary teacher can attest to, so why do we force our students to be so formal with us?
This thought randomly though whilst I was working on the series of blog articles reviewing the FutureSchools conference, and I made a short tweet about it, asking what message this sends to our students about respect, and the mutual relationship that we share with each other in the classroom. It is an issue that I believe should be talked about, and I would very much like to hear other people’s opinions on this topic.
The only place, and I hesitate to call it a place, that I’ve heard of students being referred to by their family name is at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry, where right from the beginning the students are referred to in writing and in speech, as Mr or Miss [Family Name], whilst the teaching staff are referred to as Professor [Family Name]. This is deemed, according to naming conventions, as showing respect for the other person.
If we demand to be called by our family name, and I’ve never come across a teacher allowing otherwise, as a sign of respect, should we not be showing the same level of respect that we demand for ourselves to our students? Respect, we are told after all, is a two-way street. Further to this point, when successful teaching requires strong teacher-students relationships in the classroom, what message does it send to our students about our level of respect for them when we only refer to them by their given name?
Again, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.