If it were up to me, my students would call me by my first name. I find the use of last names and titles in education to be an artificial means of respect that doesn’t amount to any actual respect at all.
In my fifteen years of teaching, I have learned that if you’re depending on a title to confer even an ounce of respect from your students, you’re in a hell of a lot of trouble.
I’d much prefer the freedom to use whatever name I choose in my professional life. This has nothing to do with my last name, though I can understand why you might think otherwise. I tend to despise unnecessary formality and meaningless artifice, and in my mind, the use of last names represents both of these things.
Unfortunately, asking my students to use my first name is not a relativistic option for me. I work in a school where every teacher is identified by their last name and in a district where educators and administrators with doctorates almost always use that honorific as well.
I have a friend who possesses a doctorate, yet he has never used the honorific in any part of his personal or professional life. I wasn’t even aware that he possessed a doctorate for years.
I admire him a great deal for this.
Even if I were allowed to have students use my first name (and I suspect that I am not), I’ve also come to understand the hazards of stepping out of line in regards to decades-old, tradition-laden practices in the workplace, and especially in a school.
Breaking this norm would be challenging to say the least. I have colleagues who have never referred to me by my first name. Can you imagine how they might feel if students were suddenly calling me Matt?
Traditions are difficult to break. It can be done, but you need to be prepared to be despised by many for doing so. This is not an issue that I feel strongly enough about to absorb that kind of flack.
At least not yet.
However, I make the argument for using first names whenever anyone will listen, hoping that one day I will build a large enough coalition to affect change. And I specifically make the argument to women, who should be more opposed to the use of last names than me.
When a woman uses her last name in a professional setting, the honorific that is attached to her name is an indicator of her marital status. Unlike men, who enjoy a universal honorific, women are forced to identify themselves based upon their legal relationship to another person, and most often, a man.
Miss if you’re unmarried and young (whatever young is).
Mrs. if you’re married.
Ms. if you are older and unmarried or choosing to be deliberately vague.
And yes, it’s true. Ms. is intended to be the default form of address for women regardless of marital status, but it’s also used by unmarried women who feel they are too old for Miss, thus muddying the waters of what was meant to be a solution to this problem.
Even if Ms. was used exclusively as a neutral default, the existence of the other two female honorifics invariably confuses matters.
Even if a married woman chooses Ms. as a way of keeping her marital status out of her name, she is doomed to a lifetime of slipups from colleagues who know that she is married and who will automatically use Mrs. until corrected and will likely make the same mistake again and again.
Students will make these errors even more often and will likely ask about the decision to use Ms. over Mrs. Despite her attempt to use the the neutral honorific, the woman will invariably be forced to discuss her marital status anyway, probably more often and in greater detail than if she had simply used Mrs.
And the change in last name and honorific when a woman gets married or divorced complicates matters even further.
Ms. becomes Mrs. or vice-versa.
Last names sometimes change but sometimes don’t.
A woman may be divorced but continues to use her ex-husband’s last name.
I have colleagues who have been married for a decade, and yet I still occasionally slip and refer to them with their maiden name.
By the way, the phrase maiden name should also enrage women.
If I were a woman, all of this would make me crazy.
Women should oppose the use of last names in education based solely on the sexist, demeaning way in which marital status pre-determines the way in which students and colleagues will address them. A person’s name should not be dependent upon the woman’s personal life and her legal attachment to a spouse.
It’s that simple.
Even though there are many schools in America where students refer to teacher by their first names, I realize that proposing a shift in a school absent this tradition is a radical one, but I am surprised that women have not complained and attempted to affect this change already.
They should be clamoring for the change.