We all grew up calling our teachers by their last names. It was seen as a sign of respect. But now that we’re all adults and we are talking to our child’s teachers it seems to some that maybe that should change. In many workplaces, we call our colleagues and bosses by their first names while maintaining very respectful relationships.
How should parents address their child’s teacher? Parents should address their child’s teacher by their salutation and last name. It is the convention in education for professionals to address each other by their last names. It is also seen as a sign of respect. For anyone who doesn’t work in education, it’s best to follow standard norms to make sure your relationship with your child’s teacher gets off to a good start.
Each workplace is different. In some jobs, it’s perfectly normal for professionals to refer to each other by their first name. In others, that’s not the case. Most people refer to their doctor with the proper salutation, and they do the same for their child’s coach as well. It’s almost always a good idea to stick with the standard way of doing things until you find out why they are done in a certain manner. As for educators, there’s a lot more to it that those who don’t work in education may not be aware of. Understanding these reasons will allow parents to do their part in keeping clear boundaries in classrooms.
Why Teachers Should Be Called By Their Last Names
There are many reasons why parents should not call teachers by their first names. Here are the most important:
- Workplace Norms
- Healthy Boundaries
- Language Impacts Behavior
- Parental Support
Simply put, teachers should be called by their salutation and last name because that’s what educators call each other at work. Remember, when you talk to a teacher you are addressing them in their workplace. Act accordingly. If you were in a doctor’s office you would say, doctor. If you were in a police station you would say, officer. If you were on a field you would say, coach. It’s no different in a school.
This is the most important reason why parents should not call teachers by their first name. Boundaries are critical. In order to be successful, teachers need appropriate boundaries in place. Their work is shaped by their ability to connect with students appropriately so they can reach them. That connection must be strictly one of student and teacher.
When it is not the lines get can be blurred and roles can take on new meaning, which almost never leads to the desired outcome. Teachers are not there to be the child’s friend, they are there to be a trusted educator. To this end, clear relationship roles are necessary.
When a teacher starts off their relationship with a student by asking to be addressed formally they establish with the student that they are not their peer. As such, the teacher deserves the students respect because they will spend the year (or more) working to make the student a better person. It is the teacher that will be guiding the student throughout the year(s), helping them see and understand that which that are unaware of today.
We need the to parent to reinforce this boundary. Parents are by far the most important teachers in their child’s life. The overwhelming majority of kids will follow in their parents lead unknowingly because their influence is so great. When the parent addresses the teacher by the first name they are showing the child that it’s OK to break the standard norm and remove that boundary.
Language Impacts Behavior
We live in a society where many norms are shifting. Some of this is a good thing. In other instances, change gives us an opportunity to appreciate why certain norms were put there in the first place. This is one of those situations. When we speak to someone informally we act informally. I can’t think of a parent I’ve met who would want their child’s teacher to be informal with their child.
There is a reason why teachers need to be viewed as authority figures. We are with other people’s children ALL DAY. The language that we use supports systems and frameworks that shape the mindsets of those with whom we interact. Changing the language will change the mindset, which will ultimately change the nature of the interactions between parent and teacher. The child will see this and will be influenced.
As they begin to question the nature of their own interactions with their teacher, they will wonder why they have to use conventional salutations when their parents do not.
Parental Support Guides Child Compliance
This norm is based on more than tradition, and it is important for parents to know why it is needed. A teacher’s entire professional persona is based on respect for the care and hard work that we put into other people’s children. If the parent doesn’t demonstrate this basic level of respect, we know it is unlikely their child will either.
Kids who grow up in homes where they are taught right from wrong know the difference between right and wrong. They may not always do the right thing, but when they don’t they know they are doing something wrong. This is because their parents instilled good values in them. This situation is no different. Some kids (and their parents) don’t know it’s important to treat teachers with respect because that’s not what they were taught. When the child sees the parent modeling disrespectful behavior, they are more likely to do the same.
Teaching is known as a thankless profession. Teachers are paid poorly and not held in high esteem in society. Society could do a lot more to give them the salary, recognition, and respect they deserve. That does not appear likely to happen anytime soon. The least parents can do is prevent further erosion of how teachers are viewed.
Teaching is a very challenging job. Being a good teacher is not even close to a 40 hour a week job. Any teacher who has had their students significantly outperform on state tests knows this. In most cases, these students come from homes where education, academics, and intellectualism are not highly valued. When a teacher is able to overcome those obstacles with so many students and push them to do better and be better, gratitude is in order.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are schools where parents and students call teachers by their salutation and first name. They are typically small private schools. Their cultures are usually very strong. Private schools benefit from many advantages that put them in a position where they can deviate from what would be considered normal in public schools. They don’t have to face the challenges that public schools do and don’t need the same norms in place.
My analysis for this article is for the public school system. Teachers who work in this system are striving to do the best they can with little reward. Our culture should be doing everything it can to elevate the profession, so the next generation can be empowered to do even better than the last.
Unfortunately, we are failing in this regard. Most teachers who enter the profession will leave within their first five years. With such a challenging and important job to do parents and students should realize that the little things really matter. Parents can do a little more. Students can do a little more. They can support teachers much better than they do now. They should understand their role in the system and work to make it better while they are a part of it.
If parents and students accept the responsibility that comes along with their part of participating in the education system they may better see the forest for the trees. If they can appreciate the challenges that come along with working in a broken system they may be more willing to elevate their role within it. That journey should begin with respect for the mission and the people who are working hardest to carry it out.