Calling teachers Sir and Miss 'depressing and sexist'

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Calling teachers "Sir" or "Miss" is depressing, sexist and gives women in schools a lower status than their male counterparts, an academic has said.

Prof Jennifer Coates told the Times Educational Supplement "Sir is a knight... but Miss is ridiculous - it doesn't match Sir at all".

She said she had been struck by the disparity while volunteering in a secondary school.

But one educationalist said being called "Miss" was a sign of respect.

Prof Coates, emeritus professor of English language and linguistics at the University of Roehampton, said she had been surprised by the different titles given to male and female teachers.

Start Quote

If I'm in a school where students don't know me and they call me Miss, I'm fine with that. They're showing respect by giving me a title”

End Quote Debbie Coslett Brook Learning Trust

"I didn't think there was this awful disparity between professorial status and these young teachers, but they're all Sir and I'm not.

"It's a depressing example of how women are given low status and men, no matter how young or new in the job they are, are given high status."

'Showing respect'

Professor Sara Mills of Sheffield Hallam University said UK schools were moving towards allowing pupils to address their teachers by their first name.

"Sometimes teachers find that they can control students more when they try to stress the similarities between them, rather than trying to keep as distant as possible," she told the TES.

But Debbie Coslett, chief executive of the Brook Learning Trust in south-east England, said there was not a disparity between "Sir" and "Miss".

"My response is always that my name isn't Miss; it's Mrs Coslett.

"But if I'm in a school where students don't know me and they call me Miss, I'm fine with that. They're showing respect by giving me a title."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1057.

    What a load of rubbish, I finished school a couple of years ago and apart from one teacher every single one of them was Sir or Miss to me.It's a sign of politeness and respect to assume Sir or Miss is an acceptable way to address a teacher.I'll be starting my own teacher training in September and it certainly wouldn't bother me if I was called Miss

  • rate this

    Comment number 1056.

    "Sir" isn't uniquely for knights. It's been a term used in the military for addressing your superiors for who knows how long. It was also, I'm fairly certain, used to refer to fathers in the more restrictive and formal times of periods we've since moved on from. It's a general term of respect for an elder or a hierarchical superior.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1055.

    The word feminism has now become synonymous with man hating, when in fact it has far more to do with women hating themselves & other women, than a logical hatred of men.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1054.

    I teach in an FE college where most students call most lecturers by their first name. However, I teach ESOL so have had to get used to being called Teacher - as are the vast majority of my fellow ESOL colleagues - as many just can't get used to calling teaching staff by their first name. I quite like being called Teacher - at least I know who they're referring to!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1053.

    Absolutely right great disparity between Sir and Miss. From now on all female teachers should be addressed as My Lady. Sorted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1052.

    Looks like someone has WAY too much time on their hands. My wife works in a school, but is not a teacher. At the weekend we often bump into kids and they say "Hi Miss" REPECTFULLY. Can't believe I'm going to use such a GIRLY phrase, but 'it's not what you say, it's the way you say it'. Anyone can say 'Sir' with disrespect. One of the few areas where kids are respectful - why mess with it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1051.

    In my school we refered to the men as Sir and the women as Madam, and there was nothing wrong with it. It was a shock changing schools for 6th form and having to remember using miss, but there was nothing wrong with it. Children only know what we teach them, so if we teach them that those term are equally respectful, they become so, whatever their past conatations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1050.

    About 30 years ago, as a new comer from South Aisa, I had called a Swiss 50+ lady in work place as 'Frau' (Mrs) but she didn't like and told me to always address her as 'Fraulein' (Miss).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1049.

    Whether you disagree with Prof Coates or not, I'm surprised by the viciousness with which she's been attacked. Suggesting she must have an inferiority complex is utterly sexist. As a professor of English, she's simply looking at how language shapes thought: there's a reason why the army call female superiors "Ma'am" rather than "Miss", which is a term from when women were judged on marital status.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1048.

    I can't remember the last time a woman opened a door for me and let me through first.

    Is that sexist?

    Don't be stupid.

    However, I'm sure some academic who left their ivory tower and ventured out into the real world might find it so.

    How pathetic and sad...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1047.

    Having been educated in both Sweden (where teachers are called by their first names) and England, I think it's ridiculous to think that the way teachers are addressed by their pupils makes some sort of monumental difference. There is nothing disrespectful about first names nor 'Miss'. Why would children have any reason to see a difference in respect unless you tell them there is one?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1046.

    Disappointing nonsense. When schools are already struggling with discipline and a general lack of respect for teachers using first names will only make a bad situation worse . When will such academics learn that teachers are not the pupils' best friends but are there to do a professional job and should be treated with both respect and courtesy, something that is all too lacking in the home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1045.

    I guess it's what people feel comfortable with. I was a teacher in further education and I always said to new classes that they did not need to address me as "sir" but they could address me as "Mr Gordon". I felt that was a realistic boundary. I am not sure that it is appropriate for an 18 year old to call a man in his fifties by his first name - but maybe I am out of touch?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1044.

    I don't blame the Professor for this, I blame the media for giving her a platform. Surely there are much more important things to report than this nut.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1043.

    If first names of teachers are used, how on earth can they keep any authority ? Children would argue with their teachers even if the building was on fire.
    This is a typical stupid leftie guardianista stunt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1042.

    As a former Primary teacher and now Secondary, I've been called Miss more than a few times (genuinely accidentally for the most part). As long as pupils are being respectful I don't see a problem. I'm sure most of us wouldn't even consider the two titles to be of different status when used in a school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1041.

    The only person with status issues is Professor Coates with the amazing the quote:
    "I didn't think there was this awful disparity between professorial status and these young teachers, but they're all Sir and I'm not."

    which translates as:
    "I am better than these young male teachers because I'm a professor, but the students did not recognise my status"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1040.

    Also can I just reassure everyone that Prof. Coates is an Emeritus professor this means she's retired so does not get paid a salary just a pension. I'm also guessing this is just her warped opinion rather than based on study

  • rate this

    Comment number 1039.

    The problem with the silly idea of using teachers names is that you are expecting children to learn the names of every member of staff, instead of just using a generic sir/miss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1038.

    Perhaps ..Sir and Madam (or perhaps not refer to 'Miss' as a 'Madam')?

    There again perhaps more formally 'Bachelor' and 'Spinster'?
    A wealth of addresses.
    By the time pupils (Ooops! 'Learners') reach teenage their grunts of Eh!, Wor? and 'Watervrr!' make names for Skoolmasters and 'Mistresses' superfluous.
    AND...'Teachers' used to address me as "Yer orrible little monster!


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