Tuesday, 1 January 2013

First Name Basis in High School

I went to a high school where I addressed all my teachers with the appropriate Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss title when I talked to them.  I have taught in a high school for all 12.5 years of my teaching career where we use a first name basis with our students.  My students call me Jared, and I love that.  I love it.

Some of you may not love that idea.  "Where is the respect?" some of you are probably saying.  I would say that there is no difference in the level of respect for staff in schools that use a first name basis vs. schools that use an honorific.  I really think that the question of respect is something that using an honorific has nothing to do with because respect does not come from a name.  I remember buddies of mine referring to teachers as Mr. or Mrs. (insert expletive here).  Just because they used Mr. did not make any of us respect our teachers more or less.

My dad had a teacher back when he went to high school who used a number system for their students.  They NEVER called the students in the class by their real name.  He was a Math teacher, he had a military background and nobody really ever questioned him on it.  My dad still remembers his number!  He also remembers the teacher saying things like, "24, get to the board and do question 5 for us."  If 24 had trouble he would sometime say something like, "You're so stupid 24. 13, get up there and help 24."  Or if someone laughed at 24, he would say, "Oh, 10 you think you're so smart, get up and help 24." Of course if 10 messed up at all, "10, you're so stupid..." That's what my Dad remembers about that Math class.  THAT. IS. HORRIBLE. TEACHING.  Remember when people think about the good ol' days?  I am positive they don't think about that.

That example of not using a student's name at all, is ridiculous to the extreme of what not to do with a student's name.  I do believe that learning student's names quickly is one of the most important jobs a teacher has at the beginning of the school year because relationship is the most important part of teaching in my opinion.  I am not saying that you should be "friends" in the, I want the students to like me so much that I will bend my rules and thus set myself up for classroom management nightmares because I wasn't confident enough in my own class expectations that the students are now ruling the class and I can't seem to do anything about it, version of "friends".  I do believe that the students need to know that you care about what you are teaching and that you care about them.  Getting their name right early helps that relationship out a lot.  I think it works the other way around too.

I like the first name basis because it sort of breaks down the walls between teacher and student a bit.  They get to know you as you.  They address you the way other people address you in regular life.  I love the first name basis at our school.

Some of you probably totally disagree, some of you may not.  Some of the parents of the kids in our school have a hard time with it I'm sure, but I think it grows on them.  Two of the three public high schools in our school district go on first name basis with their staff and students now.  I would be interested to hear how other people view this convention in their own schools.  I do think that high school is the earliest it should be introduced.  Middle school and elementary should keep the honorific system in my opinion.

Have a great day, I would love to see what other teachers in other areas think about this.


  1. I am a bored teacher and very much enjoyed your post. I think about this dichotomy sometimes, too.

    I started my teaching career at a traditional private school, where teachers were addressed as "Mr." or "Ms". This was the way I was brought up, too, so it never really occurred to me that things could be any different.

    I then moved the next year to a much more progressive school where everyone was on a first-name basis. I loved it, too. I vowed never again to work at a school where teachers weren't addressed by first name. It's become that central to my teaching practice.

    It made the relationships between students and faculty--as well as between faculty members--much more authentic. I found myself to be a much more grounded and confident teacher since the kids could call me by my first name. When their parents spoke to me, they didn't have to address me in the third person with their child standing right there. And, when I'd run into families in the supermarket down the street from the school, the interactions were much more genuine and natural.

    The parents I've dealt with generally don't have a hard time with the first-name thing. Of course, we are in Northern Calif., which has a pretty laid-back culture to begin with.

    I disagree with your comment about first-name basis being inappropriate for younger students. I've only worked at K-8 schools, and seen these schools be quite healthy and effective on a first-name basis.

    1. Sorry for the late response! It's the beginning of the new semester and has been busy! You probably know how that goes! Thanks for your comments, after reading your last paragraph and thinking about it a bit more, I think you are right. I think it would work at any level because respect isn't necessarily in the name. I totally relate to the interactions you have with students and parents in the "real world". Seeing them in the mall or wherever isn't different from school, it's just a continuation of the relationship you have with the students. We're definitely on the same page! Thanks for the response. Have a great day.