This post might be seen as controversial, because what I am about to say goes against a practice that has been around in services for a long time. I would like to take a look at the practice of having children in early childhood education and care settings refer to the educators with a prefix such as Miss or Mister.
Early childhood is a key time in children’s lives. Children are sent to early childhood settings to form bonds, build relationships and with these as a basis, develop skills that will help them transition into formal schooling and also through life. There is a whole section in the NQS on relationships with children. It is so important in forming a secure emotional base from which children can explore (ECA, 2012). A lot of children also spend more time during a working week in an early childhood setting than they do in the family home, which is a ongoing trend as the price of living continues to grow and the financial pressures on the family increase. Children are also starting care a lot younger than they historically used to, as a direct result of not only the financial pressure but the employment pressure on mothers to resume work quickly so they do not jeopardise their career.
Calling adults Miss or Mister is a sign of respect and authority that (either consciously or subconsciously) builds a barrier between children and adults. Historically it was tradition for children to address adults, including neighbours and family friends, in this fashion. Schools use it because a lot of schools employed a structured, top down teaching style in which children are expected to follow instructions and adhere to the rules and systems of the school. Some view this sign of respect, keeping children at arm’s length to make the teacher and student lines very clear. Some adults employ this technique in a workplace to assert authority and demand respect in the hierarchy.
Having said this, there are a number of schools that are dropping the Miss or Mister title and moving to allowing the students to call their teachers by their first name as they value the relationships it helps build and the flow on effect there is in the student’s work if they feel connected and included. This is also reflective of the modern society where is is less common to expect this tradition to be upheld when engaging with adults. “The president of the Victorian Principals’ Association, Gabrielle Leigh, tells me that it is increasingly common in primary schools in particular for students to address teachers by their first names – she reckons it would be standard practice at about one in 10 schools.” (Dunn, 2015).
Respect is something that should be earned through the way we interact with each other as human beings, not through a title that is thrust upon us. Babies have limited language skills and if we would like them to call us by a 2 word title then that is developmentally more challenging for them than a 1 word title. It can take up to 12 months for infants to go from 1 word to 2 word sentences, which is a period of time that they cannot respond to you by your correct title (DiProperzio, 2013).
I, personally, have worked in the majority of services without the title and I found it does not mean you get less respect from children or families, it means you can build meaningful relationships that come from mutual respect and understanding, not from a title. If we use the prefix as a sign of respect then should we not refer to parents and Mr and Mrs Smith instead of Jack and Kate? I have actually work at a service 10 years ago that transitioned from using the prefix to using first names for educators based on some reflection and there was only positive changes.
Please take a minute or two to reflect on the following:
- Who decided what children should call the educators at your service?
- How long ago was this decision made?
- Is it reflective of current societal shifts?
- Is it meaningful and purposeful, or just something that we have always done?
- Is using a title for educators done for the benefit of the educators or the children?
- Do educators form relationships that are reciprocal, allow for children’s voices and therefore result in respect, or do they assume respect because of the title?
- Is using a prefix and a 2 word title inclusive of all children regardless of their language development?
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DiProperzio. L (2013). Language development milestones: Ages 1-4. Parents. http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/language/language-development-milestones-ages-1-to-4/
Dunn, M. (2015). What’s in a name? Quite a bit for pupils addressing teachers. Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au/comment/whats-in-a-name-quite-a-bit-for-pupils-addressing-teachers-20150430-1mwozf.html
Early Childhood Australia (2012). Relationships with Children. NQSPLP Newsletter No.36. http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/nqsplp/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/NQS_PLP_E-Newsletter_No36.pdf