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 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 429.

    I am a primary TA, I am married, but perfectly happy with 'Miss' as are the rest of the female staff in our school - I have just asked.
    This article is the biggest load of rubbish I've read in ages. Prof Coates doesn't have a clue what real school like is like. 'Miss' is just as respectful as 'Sir'. Using first names would instantly remove that respect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    In Northern Ireland we refer to teachers by their title, followed by their surname. For example Mr Thompson, Mrs Hamilton, Dr Murphy. I guess this is maybe a better convention.

    I think that both Sir and Miss in educational circles command equal respect and more importantly I believe that the children who use these terms do not differentiate between the two.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    There is no disparity between "Sir" and "Miss" in a child's mind. Unless, of course, we teach them that there is, which is what this so-called academic seems to want to do.

    I went to a secondary school where we called teachers by their first names. It did nothing to improve anything. The same school has now stopped the pointless and rather disrespectful practice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    For 27 years I taught in a school where the pupils used our first names. I encountered no disrespect or problems with that from either pupils or their parents. This went right from Kindergarten through to Form 13. I enjoyed seeing children I had taught in the Infant Section, go through the school and still say "Hi, Jenny!" when on their way to lessons in the Senior Section. I liked it!


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