I’m a teacher. I taught middle school and high school science for nine years before Tara was born, and now I have a part-time position where I teach college students who are studying to be teachers.
In the past 14 years as a teacher, I have watched a slow decline in the amount of respect afforded to teachers by students and parents alike. I have watched the line between childhood and adulthood become progressively more blurry. To say nothing of the 21 years of being a child and student before my professional life began…those times barely exist anymore.
I was raised to respect authority. And by that, I mean, I was raised to respect people in authority positions, even if I didn’t agree with them. Sometimes the respect I held was for the position alone, but usually it was for both the position and the person holding it. I appreciated that when I was a kid, the lines between childhood and adulthood were not very blurry. They were clear.
One of the things that helped in keeping those lines clear was an expectation that I would use titles when speaking to (or referring to) an adult. I always called my parent’s friends, and my teachers and adults in my life by their titles: Mr. and Mrs. Niedens, Mr. and Mrs. Hunze, Mrs. McSween, Mr. Schield, Aunt Bev, Uncle Lowell, etc.
Titles are disappearing…and I believe part of the decline in respect for teachers, and part of the blurring of the line between childhood and adulthood has resulted from disappearing titles.
More and more children are being allowed – even encouraged – to refer to adults in their lives without titles. And dropping the titles has resulted in allowing and encouraging kids to call adults by first names only.
I’m writing this in reaction to a few things.
First, a new teacher, who graduated from the university where I teach, just two years ago, wrote an email to our education department wanting to point out one of her stresses of her first year of teaching, and asking if we could somehow incorporate information into our training process. Her stress? Struggling to garner respect. Her specific point? She’s young, she’s at a single congregation church school, and she’s finding that because of the nature of the small town family atmosphere, that people of all ages generally refer to her as Lindsay. And since the pastor and parents and congregation members are all talking about and with her, referring to her as Lindsay, and since it’s become quite common in the small town for children to refer to adults with first names only, she’s having issues getting the students of the school to respect her, to call her Miss Johnson (I have, of course, used a pseudonym). When you are friends with the parents of your students, and parents don’t insist on having kids call adults by titles, it creates this blurry line for kids. This line between childhood and adulthood – where adults can use first names…but so can kids? But when and where?
Another thing that seems to keep bringing this topic up is among my own circle of friends. Harold and I, long ago, decided that our children need to use titles when speaking to or referring to the adults in their lives. God bless the ones that didn’t bat an eye about our decision. But we’re really in the minority. Here in the great plains states its common for kids to call adults by their first names. And we’ve had plenty of criticism for our choice to have our kids use titles. Heck, we even make them use Aunt and Uncle before the names of their aunts and uncles! I KNOW. We’re CRAZY. But I believe that titles are so important. They are respectful. The help kids keep the line clear between childhood and adulthood. And in society today there are just so many things that blur that line – shouldn’t we do all we can to help?
There’s a certain amount of respect afforded to a position alone. And sometimes that position is simply being an adult. And I hold a strong conviction that using titles for adults helps kids make the distinction between peer and authority. In the life of a child, first names are for peers. Titles are for adults. I wish the line was more clear for kids. They like clear lines.