When first meeting with your child's teacher, how will you address him or her?
When I was a kid, it was easy. Every adult was Miss, Mrs. or Mr. So-and-so, including my friends' parents and especially my teachers. To this day I don't know what Miss Coady (grade 1), Mrs. Wall (grade 2) or Mr. O'Leary's (grade 6) first names were. However, as I became an adult and parent, and as society became less concerned with titles, I gradually began using first names to address all adults—including my children's teachers and my own. Now I wonder if I've gone too far.
Last year I was emailing an elementary school vice-principal to schedule my author visit to her school. Her emails to me always came signed from "Beverly Lake." I addressed her in correspondence as Beverly and showed up on the prescribed day asking to see Beverly. I was told, "Mrs. Lake's office is this way." I was flummoxed. Had I been overly informal in my emails with her? Clearly her staff addressed her using an honorific while it had not occurred to me to do so.
I sought input on Twitter. "We never would call adults by their first names as a kid. Showed respect. Adult to adult is a different context, no?" asked @WilliamCMurray. Okay, this made me feel a little better. I was visiting Beverly's school to work, so presenting as a peer, not a parent. Hopefully I hadn't been rude. But what about my own children's teachers, and my professors (I'm currently in graduate school)?
"I always use salutation with teachers in front of the kids (and mine are teenagers). Keeps it respectful...Over time, it can change. My daughter who is graduating has been at same school 13 yrs. She still uses salutations. After 13 years, though, I use first name with a couple of them, in email and private convo. Never at the school," said @Dakneez.
Okay, good rule to follow. First names are an earned privilege. Yet one my kids' teachers (Madame Lise) asked the kids to use her first name. Another has joined my book club. It would be weird calling her Mrs. Barr in that context. Perhaps it's situation dependent?
Next week we have the ice cream social at my kid's school. Often this is a parent's first opportunity to meet their child's teacher and it's where I like to test out how I'll address them. If I introduce myself as Alison, and his my son's teacher replies, "I'm Mrs. Carter," or "I'm Patricia," then it's easy. But if she replies, "I'm Patricia Carter," things are less clear-cut and I'm left wondering whether we're on a first-name basis or not. My general rule is to use the honorific, especially in front of my child, but to test out more casual addresses in email correspondence or at parent-teacher meetings.
The form of personal address has puzzled me, too, in my role as a graduate student. I never address my professors as Dr. So-and-So although most of them are PhDs. I generally go right for the first-name basis. Oh dear God, have I been inappropriate yet again? I call my physician Dr. Power, why not use Dr. with those who grade my papers?
"All my profs at NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) were first name basis only," said @BrightWhite. Phew. Or wait, is that just an art school thing? Back to @WilliamCMurray, who's also a professor. "95% call me Prof. Murray. a) it is an earned thing but b) it sets a tone that this is my job 1st & we're not buddy-buddy." Gulp. I've potentially goofed on this one but are the rules perhaps different for undergraduate and graduate students? My profs these days are often approximately the same age as me and I often do consider them contemporaries. How presumptuous of me.
@TrudiE chimes in that she struggles with how to address the volunteers she works with daily. "You're 83, I should call you Mrs. Smith not Mary...[so] I call her Boss. She likes that."
It seems the jury's out what to call teachers (and elderly volunteers). Wait! Here's an idea: Ask them how they prefer to be addressed. Perhaps I will try it!