What’s in a name? Why do we still use Mr., Mrs., and Ms. in Education?
Over the holiday break I started thinking about why educational institutions require learners to call their teachers Mrs., or Miss, or Mr. or Ms.? (or any other abbreviated title before a last name). What does this action mean and why do we require titles in school contexts, instead of our given first names? When I hang out with acquaintances, they call me Alison. Those close to me such as family members and friends call me Ali. I don’t expect them to address me as “Mrs. Turner” over a cup of coffee while sitting on my couch. Just as much as I am sure you don’t address your friends or circle of colleagues by Mr., or Mrs. or Miss. Why do we use such titles in Education today for learners to address educators?
Where did abbreviations of Mr. and Mrs. originate from in history? From what I could find, the word mister stems from the Latin word magister; meaning “master” or “teacher” then translated into Old English maegister or Old French maister or magis (more) which translates into master. The original use of the word is “more” to imply status of “more important”. Sometime in the 17th Century, the title Mistress shifted into Mrs. Often, people addressed those perceived socially higher than them as “Master” or “Mr.” (Or arguable were legally and unethically forced to address people this way.) This was based on social class systems as well as racial levels of social hierarchy. Yet, today we still use Mr. and Mrs. A concept worth thinking about.
Another area regarding acronyms I find interesting is why women are given titles based on marital status. Women are often addressed using Mrs., Miss, or Ms., yet men on the other hand are usually Mr. One could argue this relates back to the hierarchy of men being the ones in power of estates, people and the term “master”. Why don’t men state in their acronym if they are married or not? In today’s context, do we need to address someone based on marital status at all? Why does a learner need to know if a teacher is married or not? Does being married somehow change capabilities for educators? Does it define our identities? Another concept worth thinking about.
So what does the use of titles mean in the 21st Century context?
I’ve heard people state using titles is a sign of respect. I have to ask then, why do teachers not address learners with Mr. or Miss? Do we not owe learners respect equally in return? Learners are human beings deserving of our appreciation and entrusted in our care. If acronyms are an affirmation of respect, does this mean another human being calling me by my first name implies they don’t respect me? Hmm. How many learners in the history of Education have experienced moments of being disrespectful while at the same time calling their teacher Mr. or Mrs.? I don’t see titles as a magic badge of respect or a way to eliminate a negative behaviour. Respect is nurtured by relationship development. Respect should be expected as part of a school culture every single day from every single person.
If we are truly aiming for inclusive learning environments in Education with the belief of honouring and accepting every single human being for who they are, do we still need titles? What about gaining respect from learners through mutually earned relationship building and school culture? I feel an inclusive learning environment is attending to the needs, differences and talents of every single human being in our buildings, online and in any social interaction connected to school. Human variances should be celebrated, shared, respected, validated and accepted. I see inclusion as embracing all ethnicities, physical appearances, gender, race, religion, socio-economic backgrounds, family history, talents, struggles, and all the fantastically idiosyncratic uniqueness’s which make us human.
Are titles a tradition and we simply continue on never questioning the action? I know considering how addressing someone might seem minuscule in the spectrum of Educational ideas and I am not arguing everyone must immediately stop calling an instructor Mrs.D. or Mr.W. I am simply curious why we do some of the things we do without taking a moment to really reflect on the meaning or purpose. A learner wanting to engage in conversation with me by addressing me as Alison instead of Mrs. Turner…well, that is 100% all right with me. Alison is my name, after all.
What are your thoughts on titles in Education? Do we really need them anymore?