A couple of years ago, a reader named “Viceroy” left this baffling comment on a post that had nothing to do with his observation.
I notice that your students, who appear to be 17 & 18 years old, are required to addess [sic] you as “Miss”. Is this a symptom of the Anglo-Saxon education system where the student is required to humiliate himself/herself every time the teacher is spoken to? I’ve been teaching now for 25 years, and no student has ever called me by anything other than my first name. Makes I think for a much more relaxed and mutually respectful atmosphere.
After trying to puzzle out what he was talking about, I replied thusly:
What an odd comment. My students are in no way required to call me “miss” – in fact, I and many of my colleagues have struggled for years to get our students to call us by our names, even going so far as refusing to answer when we’re addressed as simply “sir” or “miss.” Most of us have given up the fight, as they persist in calling us by these titles, with no name attached, no matter what we do. I now tell my students that I prefer that they call me by my first name or by “Ms. Curious,” whichever they’re comfortable with, but most instinctively call me by the catch-all “miss,” and I suspect some would be hard-pressed to tell you my name if you asked them.
(The commenter’s choice of username – “Viceroy” – probably deserves some parsing, but let’s not bother.)
This exchange came to mind this afternoon, as my friend Susan and I were playing hooky from our grading and having afternoon tea (scones! cucumber sandwiches!) at the lovely Montreal salon Le Maitre Chocolatier. Susan, also a CEGEP teacher, mentioned that she refuses to answer her students if they call her just “Miss,” and that after a few weeks of being ignored, they cave and learn her name. She especially loves it when they call her “Miss Susan.”
I’ve never been able to stick to my guns that long. And the truth is, although I did try for years to get them to call me “Siobhan” – out of some sort of anti-authoritarian principle, I suppose – I have always felt a twinge of discomfort when they do. I still hate “Miss” as a generic teacher name, but I’m resigned to it. ”Ma’am,” on the other hand, charms me – I know some colleagues detest it, as it makes them feel old, but as far as I’m concerned, being old is an asset to a teacher. And I do love “Miss Siobhan,” but when a student calls me “Ms. Curious,” that sits just right with me. I sometimes wonder if I should instruct them to do so, and refuse to answer to anything else.
(At least one of my colleagues insists on being addressed as “Dr. _________.” This has always struck me as insufferable, but if we were teaching university, I doubt I’d think twice about it. Maybe I’m just a self-hating lowly CEGEP instructor.)
I believe we should all get to decide what others call us, but when it comes to choosing battles, this one seems less than pressing. On the other hand, Susan says that when her students concede to call her by her name, it changes the tone in the classroom – the relationship becomes more reciprocal, and they seem to feel more of a responsibility to treat that relationship properly.
Do you have rules about how your students address you? Do they follow them?
Image by Jakub Krechowicz