Social Question

longgone's avatar

Is there any sensible argument to be made for children not to address their teachers by first names?

Asked by longgone (19611points) June 2nd, 2015

I’m curious. I’ve talked this over with lots of people, and have yet to hear anything other than the apocalyptic prediction of “loss of respect”. I don’t understand that argument, so I thought I’d ask here.

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51 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I think keeping it more formal K-12 is a good idea, but in the end I don’t have data to support that it makes a real difference.

Using a more formal address I think does psychologically put a distance between the people. It’s not necessarily bad.

I have more problems with not being able to call my doctors by their first name. I know they spend a lot of time earning their degree, but I’m an adult and we are talking about my health.

ragingloli's avatar

Using the first name implies a familiarity that just is not there.
It should be reserved for friends and family, and maybe coworkers.
Pupils and teachers are not friends, neither are patients and doctors.
There is also the layer of hierarchy.
You would not even call your parents by their first name, nor your boss.
Indeed, using the first name can be used intentionally as a form of denigration, for example by calling a pigcop by its first name.

JLeslie's avatar

@ragingloli I agree about the familiarity, but let’s remember people in these positions often are calling their pupils and patients by their first name, putting that person on a lower level. Not always. I know doctors who use the formal address even with their patients, but I think a lot if us feel more comfortable being called by our first name. One of my most effective “doctors” is a nurse practioner whom I call by her first name.

Many college professors call students by their last name, but never K-12. Children are aware of the hierarchy no matter what I think. I’m just talking it through out loud, I’m exactly sure where I stand on it.

Some of my southern (American South) friends have their children address them as ma’am and sir. Especially when the parent asks them to do something. Similar to the military. I just called my parents mommy and daddy, but still knew they were in charge.

Many southern teachers expect the ma’am and sir thing also. I don’t think southern children do better in school because of it.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Familiarity breeds contempt and many kids do not know where to draw the line.

rojo's avatar

I think that a teacher deserves to be addressed as Ms/Mr/Miss/Mrs “X” as a courtesy, in deference to the differences in age and as an acknowledgement that the teacher has all ready put in his or her time to become educated and then is willing to impart that knowledge to the student. It also serves to help delineate between the person who has the responsibility of being in charge of the classroom and those who are their to gain their wisdom.

JLeslie's avatar

@rojo I think it has way more to do with age difference than education level with children. A lot of teachers just have bachelors degrees.

rojo's avatar

No, I agree, what I meant was that by the students referring to the teacher as Mr or Ms helps to delineate who is imparting the knowledge and who is receiving it.

marinelife's avatar

Children and teachers are not equals. The teacher needs to maintain classroom discipline and to be able to command attention from the children.

That is best served by introducing a level of distance and respect in the relationship. Hence Miss or Mrs. So and So.

I don’t feel that children should even address adults by their first names at all.

Jaxk's avatar

It’s a title used to show respect. No different than doctor, professor, sargent etc. Mr., Miss, Ms. Are used if other titles are not available and help to define the pecking order.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The sensible answer is the teacher might not care for it.

osoraro's avatar

Agree with @ragingloli completely except for his characterization of police officers as “pigcops”. But aside from that—absolutely correct.

We were looking at different high schools for my daughter. One of the high schools insists that the students call the teachers by their first name. My daughter was very uncomfortable with this. In her middle school, I even call the teachers I don’t know well by their last name—I only call the ones who I’m friends with by their first name.

ucme's avatar

I’ve always thought it would be cool, but some arseholes are bound to be offended.

longgone's avatar

I agree with the statement that formal titles create distance. I don’t believe that’s a good thing, especially with young children and considering that we are trying to teach these kids.

In Germany, as you may know, we have a more respectful term to replace the “you” which English children would use to address their teacher. I am extremely opposed to this, partly because I went to a school which did not require children to use formal titles. I had a lot of respect for some of the teachers of that school.

I don’t believe that respect can be forced. It is either there, or it’s not. Children are often very good at figuring out who is really in charge, and I wonder whether that is just a scary thought to some people.

Thanks, all. I have some more questions: If you, as a child, had not been required to address your teachers using formal titles, do you think you would have felt less respect for them? Do you believe that parents should also create a certain distance between themselves and their children? Do you tend to learn easier when your teacher is distanced? I tutor, and I strive to make any initial distance and awkwardness disappear, so this belief is surprising to me.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Using Ms., Mrs., Mr. implies respect.

flutherother's avatar

Kids don’t have the same relationship with their teachers as they do with their friends nor should they. Teachers can be close to their pupils but they aren’t their friends. Using Mr, Mrs, Ms just acknowledges this.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

The only sensible argument I can come up with is that it will mean a cultural change. There aren’t many people who embrace change.

There are two types of power (or respect): Position and Personal. Position Power comes with the title, such as parent, teacher, etc. Personal Power relies on respect generated through personal experience. So does a teacher need to be called, Mr. ___ or Ms. ___ or Dr. or Professor in order to have Position Power? I don’t see why it should. It comes from their job title and not what they are called.

My first real job was as a hotel desk clerk. Everyone on the team called the manager “Mr. Jones”. When he accepted a job at a different hotel in town with a different company, several of us went with him. The culture of that company was to call everyone by their first name. For those of us that had worked for him before, it was a struggle to start calling him “Bob”.”

The employees who never knew him as Mr. Jones held the same level of professional respect for him that we did. Their level of professional respect for him eventually reached ours once they learned that he was trustworthy.

osoraro's avatar

Look, I call other doctors that I meet professionally as “Dr.——”. I never call another physician by their first name unless I’m familiar with them or they specifically tell me to.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It is a measure of respect. To this day when I refer to my old neighbors who were the parents of the kids I grew up with, I call them Mrs. Merrick, or whatever.

Judi's avatar

My daughters kindergarten teacher was Ms Maryanne. She was awesome. I wish more schools did that.

JLeslie's avatar

I think a persons actions are what count most of all. That what garners respect. Their position in the hierarchy counts whether you call them Biff or Mr. Jenkins. If they are the President of the company that’s what they are, regardless of what name they asked to be called.

Whether to call someone by their first name or last name is more just the custom of the place or environment. We get used to using whatever is customary. Medical doctors tend to be called by their last names, same with teachers of primary and secondary school. If I met someone 20 years older than me I would address them by their last name unless they introduced themselves by their first name. Lawyers are “doctors” but they don’t use Dr. unless they are professors. My dad is a PhD and has everyone call him by his first name or If they use his last name and don’t know his education level and use Mr. he would never correct it to Dr.

On Fluther we have talked about in the southern US children often address adults as Ms. Firstname. This is the same sort of thing.

Basically, when in Rome do as the Romans. In most school environments the teachers are called by their last name.

If your going to get naked and touched by a doctor maybe it’s more comfortable not to be calling them Joe.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I was Miss V. Even when I became Mrs. B, I was still Miss V.

LostInParadise's avatar

I taught a semester as an adjunct at a community college where students addressed their teachers by first name. I never could get used to it. I do online tutoring and am referred to by first name and find this more natural. The relationship between student and tutor is different from that between student and teacher.

Part of the problem with U.S. education is the lack of respect that teachers in general have compared to most other countries. The use of first names in K-12 would accentuate the problem.

marinelife's avatar

@osoraro When a doctor upon meeting me for the first time calls me by my first name, I call him by his first name. Usually, they are taken aback. but get it.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Thinking about this topic some more…If you had been brought up to call your parents by their first name, or if you have children, if they were taught to call you by your first name, do you think that in either case, there would have been less respect for the parents?

longgone's avatar

^ Exactly. Small children don’t pay attention to titles, in my opinion. Many of them believe their parents’ names actually are “Mum” and “Dad”.

Jaxk's avatar

Interesting. I see it just the opposite. Mom and Dad, those are authority figures. June and Ward, those are friends. I learned that from a very early age.

ibstubro's avatar

I think there needs to be the title distinction for both sides, if you’re making a blanket rule for kids K-12.

When you get up into the higher grades, teachers may only be 3–5 years older than their students at the outset, and the teachers need to feel that there’s an elevation there. They have been professionally trained to teach, and are decidedly not the students friends. Friends gossip, teachers counsel.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Jaxk Would you mind expanding on that answer? What relationship do June and Ward play in that scenario? The reason for asking is that I grew up with Leave It to Beaver reruns, and they would have been called Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver based upon my upbringing.

@ibstubro I’m not sure that I’m following. Doesn’t title distinction come from the role and not from what the person is called?

As for the slighter gap in age between a student and the teacher or, as it often occurs, between a supervisor and employee, have you ever witnessed a case where what they are called makes a difference in the level of respect granted? I haven’t.

What I have witnessed is people sniffing out inexperience and attempting to take advantage of it in various ways. This includes substitute teachers, at any age and level of experience, where the students conduct childish pranks.

osoraro's avatar

@marinelife I ALWAYS call patients by their last name.

Dutchess_III's avatar

At the clinic we go to, all the doctors are known as “Dr. InsertFirstName.” I’ve caught my self calling my doctor by his first name, John, without the Dr. It just happens. Hell, we go back 20 years. In fact, I came across a post card with an Aztec theme that had been hanging around for years. I wrote on the back, “Thank you for all you’ve done for us, Dr. John!” Signed it and gave it to him.
He said, “Oh, I like this post card!”
I said, “I figured you would. I got it at your garage sale 18 years ago!”

Anyway, my hubs and I temporarily lost insurance. My daughter went to see Dr. John, and he told her to tell me he was worried about me, and that he was praying for me. :/.
Figured you’d get a kick out of that BeerBear!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Of course they think it’s their real name @longgone, for a while. Until they realize all their friends have parents with the same name. Just because a kid doesn’t understand the meaning of a word at the moment, is no reason not to teach it.

longgone's avatar

^ I was making a different point – the one that children are taught to associate certain titles with respect and hierachy. Which seems to be the same point you are making, looking at your last comment .

Jaxk's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer – It was a take off on Leave It To Beaver (a series I watched before there were reruns). If the Beaver called his Dad, Ward, It changes the relationship to a peer relationship. The few times I have seen it done, the relationship IS different. The Mr. or Ms. title creates an authority relationship as well but not as dominant as Mom or Dad. Think of a step Dad or step Mother, they are quite often called by their first name rather than Mom or Dad and the authority IS considerably less. At least that’s been my experience.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Jaxk, does the use of Mr./Ms. solely create the authority impression? I was brought up to ‘respect my elders’, which meant calling them by their title and not their first name. It was part of my culture.

If I were to move to another area where everyone called each other by their first name, it wouldn’t delineate the respect I am accustomed to giving to another person. One’s position (Professional Power) and one’s words and actions (Personal Power) are what matters when it comes to respect.

Jaxk's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer – No that’s not the entire relationship, only a part of it. Kids that are brought up to respect their elders will likely do that regardless but it merely chips away at it. Those inclined to disrespect will gain a margin of credibility from it. I always called my stepmother by her first name and always respected her but the authority didn’t match that which I assigned to my Dad. It worked the same way for her kids. There are a lot of pieces to all all this the use of first names is only one small piece.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Jaxk That could very well be true. I have never been exposed to a place, be it another country or a household in my own, where children called others who were deemed worthy of respect by their first name. Have you or anyone else here? That’s what I would like to hear reports about.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jaxk So what about the kids who call their parents ma’am and sir? What do you think about that? I ask because you said calling your mom by her first name changes the relationship to be more like a friendship.

Jaxk's avatar

@JLeslie – A similar show of respect by used differently. You could respond to them with sir or ma’am but it’s more generic. You could respond to anyone that way with a show of respect. Usually kids don’t call their parents sir or ma’am but merely respond that way. I know I did at times.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jaxk Some parents demand it.

Jaxk's avatar

@JLeslie – Let me try it this way:

My Dad “Clean up your room”
Me “Yes sir”

But if I need to identify them

Me “when is Mom getting home?”
My Dad ” never you mind, Clean up you room”
Me “Yes sir”

JLeslie's avatar

@Jaxk That’s exactly what I am talking about.

ragingloli's avatar

Adressing parents with “sir” gives the impression of a master-slave relationship, not a parental one. It seems downright oppressive and denigrating to the child.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I used “sir” and “ma’am” to placate them when they were angry!

jca's avatar

I never called my mother “ma’am” and I never heard any of my friends address their parents as sir and ma’am.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think, if that happens, it’s probably in military families where the father is over strict and over bearing.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Because you live in NY.

@ragingloli It sounded that way to me too. Living in the south I became a little more used to it. There are parents who don’t use corporal punishment and aren’t totally oppressive have their children address them as ma’am or sir in response to a parents request or demand.

Strauss's avatar

I came from a working class family in the Chicago area. We were not necessarily expected to use “sir” or “ma’am” when addressing our parents, but we were expected to show them due respect. My wife was raised in a military family from the Southern US. She and her siblings were taught and expected to use “sir” and “ma’am”.

Growing up in the North, we called most adults Mr. or Mrs. (last name). Adults who were friends of the family were more often called “Uncle” or “Aunt” (first name), even if they were more accurately cousins or friends. I noticed that in the South (generally speaking) I children would address adults as Mr or Ms. (first name).

As far as school, I always addressed my teachers as Mr. Miss or Mrs. and then the last name. This was before the widespread use of Ms. Of course, in Catholic schools, the priests were addressed as Father (usually last name), or Sister if the teacher was a nun.

As far as using the teacher’s first name:

I had always thought it was more appropriate to keep the Mr. or Ms. followed by the first or last name, depending on the teacher’s preference. I see a certain level of respect which is inherent in that practice.

That being said, my daughter attends an expeditionary learning school, and I teach music there part-time. It is part of the culture of this particular school that the students address the staff on a first-name basis. The explanation is that the classroom in this particular type of school is modeled after the typical 21st-century American workplace.

ragingloli's avatar

And by the way, I am pretty sure none of them deserve to be addressed as ‘sir’, as I very much doubt that any of them have come even close to being knighted by the Queen of England.

Strauss's avatar

Thank you, Sir Loli of the Rage!

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Since this question was asked, I was able to catch up to my sister, a 60 year-old 5th grade (10–11 yr. olds) teacher in a public school in Virginia (as Southern US state). When this question was posed to her, she said that she has no desire to be called by her first name. In her mind, it is a way to form a personal bond with students that shouldn’t exist. She said that she explains to students that is not there to be their friend.

I pressed further, citing examples of countries where this is an acceptable practice and no respect is lost, and inquiring whether this is really a case of a cultural difference. What if she were to work for a school where this was a common practice? After a long pause, she admitted that it would probably be more of a cultural adjustment for her than a lack of immediate respect from students.

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