What’s in a Name Anyway?

Me as the Professional!
Me as the Professional!

Yesterday a colleague questioned my informal style of communicating with the parents of my students.  (I address parents with their first names in emails and sign off with my first name.)  My colleague, however, reminded me that when we go to see other professionals like Doctors, we use Dr. Last Name to address them.  Why should teachers be any different?  I don’t know if using my first name versus my last name really affects others’ view of me.  Partly why I’m so informal is because I taught up north in New York and Cambridge, MA.  Up there everyone is on a first name basis.  In some cases, the students even call the teacher by their first name.  I even called my principal by his and her first name.  Here, however, everyone goes by last names, almost exclusively.  It was quite the adjustment for me, when I moved back to the area.

It got me thinking about whether I am seen as a professional in my industry and more importantly did I see myself as a professional.  When N started working as a doctor, everyone, including his administrative assistants, call him Dr. Additionally, when he calls a patient or a pharmacist back, he refers to himself as Dr.  Yet I always have referred to myself with my first name.  Especially when I meet with parents, who are like my version of patients.

What does professional really mean?  [My answers follow in particular order.]

1.  Dress

2.  Others trust your opinion as a professional on the topics connected to teaching.

3.    Degrees

4.  Experience

5.  A certain unspoken respect from your colleagues in the industry and other professionals (i.e. parents) in your society.

I think on one hand my wardrobe screams professional and my teaching too.  And yet, my opinions about curriculum and testing aren’t always heard or trusted by parents or others above me.  How much does me using my first name versus my last have to do with it?  Is it me or our society that allows people to view teachers as not as professional as doctors?

Is something as small as my name making parents see me as unprofessional?  And why is it that we as a country see doctors automatically as professionals, yet can’t see teachers in the same ranking?  Are we not all in the same tier?  We are expected to work long hours for lower wages.  We are expected to meet with parents for 51/2 hours after teaching for 6 hours.  We are expected to teach curriculum that someone who hasn’t been in the classroom for years has written and when we share our experience, it is not heard.  I mean when my husband shares with his colleague who is a dentist his diagnosis of a patient, the dentist and patient listens.  What is the difference really between doctors, CEO’s, and teachers?  If another doctor came into my husband’s practice and told him that from now on he had to perform surgery a certain way, he would and could easily say no as the professional.  Yet in my profession, this happens daily–others come in and change curriculum.  In fact, parents have more of a say in curriculum than teachers, in some cases.

While I am not oblivious to the vast difference in the two jobs, there is something to be said about how one gets treated as a professional and the other doesn’t. So I ask again, how much of this has to do with my name?


10 thoughts on “What’s in a Name Anyway?

  1. Interesting questions you raise here. I don’t think one can come up with a definitive answer for these either. I suppose part of it just has to do with the culture itself – it is acceptable in USA, whereas in India (which is where I grew up) it shows disrespect. If, however I were to go ahead and address a faculty member by his/her first name, it would suggest a sort of familiarity which in some ways contradicts respect. It would suggest I saw the faculty as a friend rather than someone to be seen as a professional to be respected. Then again, that is in India, and this is the US. 2 very different worlds. 🙂

  2. When I write to parents, I address them by their last name, and then I sign my full name. If they then address me by my first name and sign their first name, I follow course. I don’t see addressing each other that way as a sign that they don’t think I’m a professional. In the best relationships with parents, we are partners in what is best for the student.

  3. Good questions all. New England IS very informal … much more so than NY where I grew up. Some of us don’t automatically command respect. I’m not sure why that is.

  4. I think if you want the “respect” of being called by your last name, then you should use your last name when you address yourself to others. In a related note, I don’t personally believe that use of first or last name equals respect. Around here, where I live, in the Great Midwest, pretty much everyone is on a first name basis. Summing it up, use of first and last name isn’t about respect. I’m blabbing on, sorry.

  5. On my school Web site I am Dr.; to my middle school students – I am Mrs. (The Dr. seems too pretentious for 8th grade.) When I speak somewhere – I am Dr. again. And it is so strange to hear people address me with the Dr. I look around to see who they are speaking to. One day – maybe – it will sound right.

    I think the respect comes from those who appreciate the help they had getting to their place in the world. Disrespect for teachers comes from those who want everyone to believe that they got there all by themselves.

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