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 457.

    Oh get real; I suppose calling a girl Jill and a boy John is also sexist? It has been Sir and Miss for so long; it preserves the respect that children should have for their teachers, a little distance and awe rather than the less formal first name. I never equated Sir with Knight's of the Realm, all senior figures over the age of 25 were Sir and Miss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    Nick Griffin says militant homosexuals are a threat to the British race. I think it's male sexists. Unless they upgrade to the 21st century, they do more damage than anyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    At my daughter's school , teachers are referred to by 1st names. Works beautifully, no lack of respect at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    "an academic has said" ...Yes, if she had something useful/insightful to say she probably wouldn't be an academic; it's not the sort of insight that could earn a wage in the private sector. I can't wait for her follow up paper "calling people Sue and Dave is sexist".

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    I am also a married teacher and I do not have a problem with students calling me 'Miss' as I do see it as a sign of respect. I do not want to be called by my first name to make it a 'level playing field' as ultimately as we work with our students as a team and a team need a leader to help them achieve their goals. The idea of first name use shows the little regard afforded to teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    Such a lazy poor article with such a blatent feminist political enfasis, does more to harm the feminist political movment, and little to advance the debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    Oh, please!
    Some people just aren't happy without something to moan about!

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    Oh dear another load of leftie rubbish. These terms are just a mark of respect and have been for many many years. Why does some have to attach some irrelevance to it.

    Like I said utter rubbish, what the hell do they do in universities? Waste time by the sound of it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Sir is an honorific address used as a courtesy title to address a man without using his given name or family name in many English speaking cultures

    Equivalent terms of address are "ma'am" or "madam" in most cases, or in the case of a very young woman, girl, or unmarried woman who prefers to be addressed as such, "miss".

    Addressing teachers is set by schools & often teachers themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    425.It_s yerself
    You're right about you wetting yourself. It's with anger rather than laughter though. I am doing the one doing laughing at the irony of this collective male hissy fit. Armchair machos!

    Rather sexist presumption that it's an 'all male hissy fit'. It isn't, trust me. That attitude is a bigger part of the problem than the word "Miss".

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    I wish someone paid me to sit around coming up with this nonsense.


  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    @427 I have a feeling that this Professor would become apoplectic with rage at the assumption that she had a husband. Even if she had a husband.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    It_s yerself
    4 Minutes ago

    You're right about you wetting yourself. It's with anger rather than laughter though. I am doing the one doing laughing at the irony of this collective male hissy fit. Armchair machos!
    Does this all apply to your fellow women who think this nothing but a complete waste of time? I would be very interested to know what you're thoughts on what they say is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    Try calling the pEople .you meet in everyday life Sir or Madam. It shows respect and their response is always good whether they are your teacher, boss or you are their employer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    What utter unadulterated crap !
    I am sure I am not alone in feeling Prof Jennifer Coates should be made to get a proper job

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    This should be a matter of personal choice. Protocols are there to avoid embarrassment. When meeting someone for the first time it might be Sir, Madam. When a relationship has developed this may become Mr, Mrs or Miss. It should only go to first names by mutual consent. It is also a generational thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    This fool should be removed from post for both wasting her salary and soiling the University of Roehampton's reputation. When I address a letter "Dear Sir", it's got nothing to do with Knights!

    I suggest that "Miss Coates" should get some counselling for the obvious inferiority complex she has.

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    What's wrong with Ma'am? I used it in a state school. If it's good enough for the Queen I can't see how a teacher might object. I reckon this academic isn't busy enough. There are far more important things for her to address in education than this. Unless it's just an unashamed attempt to improve her academic citation rate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    I listened to the Professor on the radio this morning, I got the impression she was somewhat "insulated" from reality (I'm being polite).

    What next, the removal of "mummy" and "daddy" to first name terms?

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    I've often heard the term of people living 'In the realms of Academia' I know what it means and I think the border should be closed and keep them all over there ......'in a galaxy far far away....and if that is too distant there is always Brigadoon where thy only wake up and smell the roses once in a century


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