Sunday, December 6, 2009

What's In A Name?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
A RoseCourtesy PD

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet – William Shakespeare

Evening Standard columnist, Frank Furedi, believes that the educational crisis facing Britain today is in part due to the way objective academic standards are being defined and asserted in the classroom.

His claim is that society seems “to have given up on adult authority and the idea that the person who knows best in the classroom is the teacher.” He believes that “education requires the conscious and regular imposition of adult authority.”

I was reminded of Furedi’s opinion when learning recently of the debate over the move by principals and teachers in some New Zealand primary schools to have pupils call them by first name. Some teachers believe that learners bond better with their teacher when they call them by their first name.

Anthropologist James Urry claims that removing the age-based hierarchy empowers children before they have the social skill to cope with it.

Canterbury College of Education associate dean, Barry Brooker, was reported as saying that using formal titles develops a demarcation between teachers and students that gives teachers the authority to do their jobs properly.

Do teachers need authority to do their jobs properly?

At The Correspondence School of New Zealand (TCS), a distance education centre, learners always refer to teachers by first name.

When I first took up a teaching post at TCS, this idea was new to me. I’d taught in different secondary schools for many years before then.

In all the schools
where I taught, in Scotland and New Zealand, students called their teachers by their surname: Mr Roberts, Mrs Gill, Miss James, etc.

When I graduated PhD, the principal of the Edinburgh High School
I was teaching in announced to the school that I was to be called
Dr Allan, from now on. I've been addressed as Dr Allan, or Sir, by students in every face-to-face school I’ve taught in since.

But I had no problem when my students called me Ken at TCS.
The policy of the school was that students always referred to teachers by first name.

Other distance education centres do the same. And you know, it seems to work. I find that learners relate to me with at least as much respect as I had earned while teaching in face-to-face schools.

Are face-to-face schools so different that students calling their teachers by first name can damage the potential for effective student–teacher relationships? What do you think?

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes


V Yonkers said...

I think this is very much of a cultural thing. In Costa Rica, my students (all adults) called me by my first name. Student teaching in Vermont, high school students called me by my first name. When I began to teach at a private Catholic University, however, I found I had to have students use a formal address. Why? Because their expectations were that I "lead" them. Students were chosen to create a certain learning culture and I was expected to teach within that culture. I found students had difficulty understanding my role within this university if I allowed them to use my first name.

I currently teach there and at a large Public University. The private university requires that I notify the administration if a student is absent from class, even if I don't have an attendance policy. The school is set up authoritatively. On the other hand, the public university, students can use my first name, or address me more formally. Sometimes they just refer to me as "teacher" or "professor" which sounds odd to me (as if they don't know, nor want to know my name...I'm just another learning tool). The public university is much more open and diverse, giving the professor a lot of ley-way.

However, this is the Northeast US and in the West, I was expected to call my professors by their first name. They didn't like the wall social barrier that when up when addressing them formally (for the most part...there were some that insisted we used a formal address).

It seems to me that the use of a formal address helps to maintain barriers between teachers and students. Sometimes this is necessary (especially if the culture requires it) and sometimes it isn't. Adding or dropping a formal address will definitely change the role of the teacher in the classroom. What affect that has on learning depends on the culture in which learning is taking place.

Caffeinated Weka said...

I watched the outcry about what students should call their teachers with interest last week. I really don't see what the fuss is about. Having taught in schools where honorifics are used as well as schools where staff were all called by their first names, I can't say I've ever noticed a difference in the 'respect' I was afforded as a teacher, nor in the 'problems' that were caused through a lack of 'barriers'. I'm wondering why the general public insist that barriers need to be formed in the first place, when I have found that sound relationships are the key to learning? Having tried both, I feel most comfortable being addressed by my first name by people of all ages. I'd prefer students to not use my shortened/nickname; somehow that's just for family and friends, but it wouldn't bother me too much if I did hear it in the classroom.

I feel that this issue should come down to a matter of choice. However, I also acknowledge that these decisions are usually better supported when there is a degree of consistency throughout a school, ie everyone is addressed by their first name, or everyone uses honorifics. I applaud the MoE for saying that this is a matter for individual schools to decide, rather than mandate a directive. Either way, it might be a point for discussion, but is certainly not the outrage that last week's media would have us believe.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā korua!

Kia ora Virginia

I go along with what you are saying here. Is there a similarity between correct code of address, dependent on situational expectation, and dress code? As a class room teacher I always wore a shirt and tie. Trousers - no jeans. It was an expectation that I wore a tie, and only on sports days and other less formal occasions would I wear an open shirt (without tie).

As a distance educator I will often meet learners and sometimes their parents dressed in open shirt and trousers. The tie has never been a dress expectation and would not be noticed whether it was there or not. I believe that the code of address has a similar situational property.

Kia ora Café Chick

Yes the outrage in the media is a little Shakespearian. I thought it was much ado about nothing too.

I agree about the consistency aspect of it all - the odd person out syndrome when someone breaches the situational expectation. I also agree with you in asking why we need to introduce the barriers in the first place.

Catchya later

Laura L. said...

I live in the US Midwest and my daughter is now in 4th grade (9/10 year olds). She has been calling her teachers by their first names since kindergarten. She attends a Spanish Immersion school so it is usually preceeded by an honorific such as Señora or Maestra/Maestro etc. This has not seemed to diminish the respect that the teachers receive in the classroom. Each school in her district can decide how they want the staff to be addressed, everyone agrees to the style. I found it a bit odd at first, but my daughter seems to enjoy the closeness she has with her teachers. I have never heard one of them say they do not get the respect they deserve due to the use of first names. However, I have noticed that almost all of the Middle Schools (6th - 8th grade US - 12 years old - 14 years old) have teachers being addressed more formally. Here it may be a function of age and that k - 5th graders are less likely to rebel and have respect issues than early teenagers. Just a thought.

As an adult educator, I have always gone by my first name. I don't think that most adults look at you as less of a "leader" if you go by a less formal mode of address. It can also be a bit too intimidating to some.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Laura!

Welcome to my blog!

Interesting that you speak of the Spanish immersion school here. I understand that teachers in Spain take on a more authoritative role than they may do in other western countries. Yet as you say, the first name is still used for the teacher, without loss of respect.

Thank you for dropping by.

Catchya later