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The debate causing a stir at the moment is whether addressing teachers as “Sir” and “Miss” is sexist.

Professor Jennifer Coates sparked yesterday’s debate as she told the Times Educational Supplement that “Sir is a knight…but Miss is ridiculous – it doesn’t match Sir at all.”

One solution to this problem that has been highlighted is the idea that teachers could be addressed by their first names. This has been met with a tone of disapproval among some, including chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, Helen Fraser. She asserts in The Telegraph that:

A school is a hierarchical institution, and staff have a professional role to uphold. They are not there to be their students’ friend, but their teacher, and it’s important that a degree of professional distance is maintained. There’s a difference between being friendly and being someone’s friend.

Children and young people need structures and they need to know where they stand. So I for one do not agree that calling teachers by their first name is a good idea. It diminishes the respectful relationship that should exist between a teacher and his or her student. It’s when that professional barrier becomes blurred that problems can arise, for both the teacher and the pupil, and lead to accusations of unfairness or favouritism. 

So, what other options are available? Education historian Jacob Middleton suggests we “probably want to go down the route of referring to female teachers as Sir as well,” Middleton says. “Raise the semantic status of women.” (TES)

This, however, is met with equally problematic connotations, as it still suggest that women can only be raised up the hierarchical structure by taking on the male title. 

The BBC has looked at the origins of this hierarchical distinction between the terms “Sir” and “Miss” and reports:

Until the 1944 Education Act, women teachers could not marry. Teaching had been seen as incompatible with a wife’s domestic duties. When a female teacher tried to overturn the law in 1925, the Court of Appeal ruled against her: “It is unfair to the large number of young unmarried teachers seeking situations that the positions should be occupied by married women, who presumably have husbands capable of maintaining them.” So before the marriage bar was lifted, “Miss” was always going to be accurate. Although the fact male teachers were not “Mr” gives credence to the idea that female teachers had second-class status. 

Would we really be asking too much for pupils to address their teachers as Miss/Mrs/Ms/Mr + Surname? 

How do you think your pupils should address the teachers in your school? Let us know your experiences and opinions!


Image courtesy of Paul Gooddy/