I work with teachers everyday, some of the greatest minds in the world. I’m not talking about celebrities; I’m talking about everyday teachers. And something that I would like us to do is to stop allowing students to address us only as “Miss” or “Mister.” Maybe this is not a problem in your region of the United States, but in the South, instead of students calling us by our names, like Ms. Vaughn or Mr. Nicholson or Dr. Patton, students will just say, “Miss” or “Mister.” For example, “Miss, where do I put this paper?”
Did you know that the first item the slaveholders took away from the slaves when the latter disembarked from the ships of the Middle Passage was their names? Your name matters. It’s who you are.
You are an important person in the lives of your students and in the world. You are a TEACHER. You are valuable. Please do not let your students devalue you and the profession by calling you the same name as what we would call a waitress whom we’ve never met! As English teachers, we know the power of language. As historians, you have witnessed the effect of a historical motivating or misspoken word. As math and science teachers, you have seen what one wrong symbol can do to an equation or a chemical reaction, respectively. LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT.
I know you have a tremendous amount of work on your plate, and you’re thinking, “Deborah, I have a lot more problems to deal with than this!” But I would like to convince you otherwise. How can you expect students, parents, administrators, and the global community to respect our profession when they don’t even call us by our given names?
I remember the first time a student called me “Miss.” It was in 1994. My head did a 360, and I turned to the young, Caucasian, eleventh grade student and asked, “Why did you call me ‘Miss?’ My name is Ms. Louis.”
“Well, it’s easier to call you Miss, and our other teachers let us call them Miss.”
“Well, I will call you Mr. Davis, and you will call me Ms. Louis. I will not answer to ‘Miss,’ just as I expect that you wouldn’t want to answer to ‘Hey, you’ or ‘boy.'”
(This was back when I was calling my eleventh grade students by their last names in order to raise the bar of formality and expectations among a teacher and her students. In the hallway, I called him Mark.)
Some teachers say, “Well, Deborah, this is a cultural thing.” Cultural, smultural. My Ph.D. is completely enveloped in cultural things, and no where does it say that “Miss” is cultural. I think it is a lazy thing. But if you’re not going to have them call you by name, then at least have them call you “Teacher.” At least the word “Teacher” gives you some semblance of respect when spoken to.
If I were Aretha Franklin, I’d break out into R-E-S-P-E-C-T right now. As a teacher, I know how hard my colleagues work to better their students’ lives, to better our nation’s future. If you do not demand respect in your classroom, you will not get it.
On this Thanksgiving Holiday, I am thankful for the adults in my life who made me grow into the woman I am today. Trust me, it wasn’t easy for any of them. So thank you, Mom and Dad. But also, thank you Mrs. Tanner (1st grade); Mrs. Lawrence (2nd grade); Mrs. Hyman (3rd grade); Mrs. Crews (4th grade Math); Mr. Crook (7th grade Social Studies); Mr. Kennemer (9th grade Biology); Mrs. Nickel (11th grade English); Mr. Wilbanks (12th grade Government) and Mrs. Simmons (12th grade English).
When I say their names, they live and thrive again. They were important then, and they still are.
We will never rise in our professional status if we do not even have a name.
Keep writing, reading, and teaching!
Dr. Louis (not “Miss”)