I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while now. I was inspired months ago when my teaching partner, Paula, happened to be away and there was a supply in for her. The supply introduced herself to the class at the gate on the way out to the forest. Her last name was a harder one to remember, so she said that kids could call her by it or Mrs. ______. Fill in the blank with the first letter of her last name. This is when one child piped up and said, “Can we call you ____?” He just called her by the single letter. She replied with, “You can call me, Mrs. _____.” There’s the answer, and there’s where I realized that what Paula and I have with these kids is special.
I’ve blogged before on names, and how I feel about kids knowing and using our first names. In an educational system that tends to keep educators’ first names as the best kept secret, I stick with the last name protocol. Paula does too. But this year we’re doing something that we’ve never done before. We use our last names almost like first names.
This started by accident, as we began to write notes back to kids. Instead of signing the notes “Miss Dunsiger” or “Mrs. Crockett,” we often just wrote “Crockett” or “Dunsiger.” Our children kind of loved this, and soon they weren’t just reading these names, but calling us by them. One child shortened “Crockett” to “Crockie,” and that name also stuck.
Then the other day, I was writing a note back to a child that wanted to go to the caretaker’s office to ask for more paper towels. When she finished the note, she read, “Dunsiger,” and shortened it to “Dun. I call you, ‘Dun.’ Hi Dun!”
Some people might consider this disrespectful. Maybe at another point in my career, I would have as well, but now it gives me a warm feeling inside. It makes me smile. For nicknames and last names, just like first names, carry with them a feeling of relationships: something that Paula and I believe in and support in all of the work that we do.
I can’t help but think about a good friend of mine from university, who to this day, still calls me “Dunsiger.” A principal that I used to work with, Gerry Smith, often did the same. In fact, he called almost all staff members by just their last names. This wasn’t the same as calling me, “Miss Dunsiger.” When you add in the “Miss,” the name becomes much more formal, and there seems to be an us versus them feeling to the interaction. It’s like saying, “You address me formally because I am the one in charge.” While technically we are the ones in charge, the power dynamic changes when a relationship makes you open to really connecting with each other: be that adults connecting with adults, adults connecting with children, or children connecting with children.
I’d like to think that children respect us because of the connections that we’ve formed with them, and not because we insist on more formalized titles. Children should also respect each other for the same reasons. There’s something to be said about a classroom community that doesn’t rest on titles, but instead, real relationships. I keep thinking about a comment that I received on one of our recent Instagram posts.
Does something as simple as letting a Miss, Mrs., Ms., or Mr., fall — or not fall — as it may make a difference in developing these kinds of relationships? How do you feel about dropping the title? As Crockie and Dun, we are more than happy to continue our year without a formal address. Maybe some new nicknames will even develop in the meantime.