Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Student-Teacher Relationship: On A First Name Basis?

The time has come for Jenny D. to choose a high school for her daughter. Among the choices offered, this high school in particular caught my eye:
450-student HS; kids chosen by lottery if they apply. Students call teachers by their first names. No AP classes are offered, but kids can take them at the other two big HS. They can also design "Community Service Representative" classes that are taught by some community member. So if you can get the local newspaper editor to teach you journalism, and you can get the editor to set up a syllabus, arrange it with the school, agree to supervise--then that's a class. Fewer tests, less homework, but more meaningful homework. Kids can do sports but must travel to big HS to do it. There's a bus to get there. Very cozy. Kids eat at downtown restaurants for lunch. More white and wealthy than the other two high schools.
I'm not too sure that I'm comfortable with that part about high school students addressing teachers by their first names. The need for students to learn good manners and public decorum aside, there are some real educational concerns that I would have with this policy.

I believe that there are times when its best to maintain some semblance of formality in our society. This includes children addressing those adults in positions of authority by their courtesy titles and surnames.

I wouldn't want my 14-year-old daughter (the TeenWonk) calling her 20-something-year-old biology teacher by his first name any more than I would want my seventh-grade history students addressing me by mine.

And that works for me too. I could not imagine going into a courtroom and addressing the traffic court judge has "Hank."

The teacher-student relationship is not a relationship between friends or even equals. It is a position of trust in which the teacher is in a postion of authority and the student is in the position of being obligated to comply with the legal directives of the adult in loco parentis.

I think that a strong argument can be made for the idea that when children use the first name of adults who are in those positions of responsibility, that it sends mixed messages to both student and teacher that there is a relationship between equals thereby making it more difficult (for some) to maintain "professional distance" in the teacher-student relationship.
See last week's Carnival Of Education right here and our latest education-related posts over there.