February 13, 2009

The Importance of Being Mister?

Names are important. In the classroom I feel that it is important for students to refer to their teachers as Mr. or Mrs. So and So. I don’t feel that it is appropriate in any k12 setting for any student to use any teacher or administrators first names. There needs to be professional distance between student and teacher. It is equally important for teachers to quickly remember and regularly use the names of their students. The use of a student’s name in the classroom is a validation that recognizes that they exist, that they are unique, and they are important.

Almost no one calls me by my first name, Kevin; and even then it’s a shorter version like Kev, and sometimes Kevo. My dear mother who named me doesn’t call me Kevin because that’s not the name she picked out for me. My mother named me K.C. up until my (paternal) grandmother came to see me in the hospital and asked what my parents had named their first-born. My grandmother’s famous response was, “K.C.? Sound like the name for a dog.” So K.C. became Kevin Christian. However, most people who know me professionally, including my students, call me Bibo.

Leaving off the “Mr.” part used to bother me. But then I came to accept my namesake and go with it. Some students call me “Mr. Bibo” in class, but those are usually the newer, younger students with whom I have not yet made any sort of connection. About midway through the school year, and from that point on, the majority of high school students I teach refer to me simply as Bibo. And it’s not just them. My colleagues also refer to me as Bibo. That could have something to do with there being four other Kevins on campus.

I could be offended at this lack of formality. For me, the use of my last name alone has become endearing. Bibo is a very uncommon name after all (how many Bibos do you know?) One Bibo was actually a Governor at Acoma Pubelo in New Mexico during the late 1800’s. My sister and I recently ran into another Bibo working at a local restaurant. Just today a student shared with me that Bibos means an Asian wild ox. So as long as I feel respected by my students as the authority figure in the classroom, I don’t really mind.

So long as your students respect you as their teacher dropping the Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. can be acceptable. However, I still would not allow my students to use my first name because I feel that it crosses a line of professional distance that the kids themselves want to keep in place. Many adults will continue to refer to their childhood teachers as Mr. or Mrs. well into their adult lives. I have written under a pseudonym (Cal Teacher Blogger) for five years, but no more. From this point on it’s Mr. Bibo (but you can call me Bibo.)


  1. Well, Bibo, I must say I like your "new" name. Everybody calls me B except for when I substitute. I teach adult and sibling classes at a hospital, and I just tell everyone to call me B. Maybe I should change my blogging name too.:)

  2. When I was in school I was one of the students who always got a bit personal with my teachers. I don't think I ever crossed the line (okay take that back I did once), but going by your last name or having a nickname can be fun and make your students more comfortable.

    Cheers, Bibo!

  3. I agree with you on the importance of formality and keeping a level of distance in the classroom. I think the post-baby-boomer-new-age "call me by my first name because we're FRIENDS" thing is drivel and it should stop as soon as humanly possible. I'm glad you this brought up. Great blog!

  4. I kind of like going by Spencer. It makes me feel like I'm on a sports team. The staff always uses it and the kids are about half/half between using Mr. or just "Spencer" (with a few ELL students who use Mrs. on accident)

  5. My first teaching gig was at a private preschool in which teachers were REQUIRED to go by their first names. I went from "Ms. Powell" in student teaching to "Angela" with my first real class. There's not much worse than hearing a bunch of 4 year olds whining "Aaaannnngelaaaaaa! I can't DO IT! Annnnngeeellaaa!" I never got over the lack of respect there (Ms. Angela would have been alright).

    I also never got over the fact that teachers were REQUIRED to have guinea pigs in their classrooms. Mine died halfway through the *first* day of school, and I spent the afternoon explaining the circle of life and digging a hole out on the playground for the burial.

    Good times, good times. What were we talking about?

  6. Names are definitely important to show respect. I totally agree that Mr. and Mrs. (Ms.) are necessary in the younger grades but I like what you say about being "Bibo" at the high school level. My favorite teacher, Mr. Taylor, in high school quickly lost the "Mr." but gained more respect because he wasn't afraid to make us a real part of his life. :)

  7. I like the "Mr."

    I think that it is because I still call all of my former teachers Mr., Mrs., or Miss... I have never had to ask one of my students to use the Mr. They have just done that.

    Of course, when I used to coach soccer, the MR. immediately fell off. (As it should.)

  8. I've found that after just 4 days my students all have my name down pat and are even attempting clever nicknames (can we call you Mr N? No. Mr. Nothing? No. Mr. Knothead? No.) while my master teacher has failed to get my name correct even once.

  9. I like to tell my kids, I don't care what they call me as long as they put the Ms. in front of it ;) This works well with middle schoolers and is only occasionally abused by a student pushing the limits.

  10. I teach high school and my students really like to have nicknames for all their teachers - this school is really close-knit, most students refer to the teachers as their school family (it's a Catholic school as well). My name is Katie Parks (Skerpon, but my husband teaches their as well and I go by my maiden name to keep some professional distance) and the kids were trying to come up with a nickname. Ms. P was just awkward (Ms. P can I use the restroom to um... pee?) and so one semester I was teaching all girls (subbing for the health teacher on maternity leave) and the girls were determined and finally came up with Ms. K.P. and then realized that that's 'Kim Possible's' initials (from Disney) and so now I even have my own theme music!

    I still feel that I get the respect needed and I don't usually have authority problems (usually only beginning of the year when we are getting to know each other, but I usually nip that in the bud) and having a nickname (and theme song!) really seems to bond us very quickly. It also shows that kids that I have a sense of humor, which given that I teach religion can be a good thing so that they don't think I'm always super-serious because we're talking about God.

    Thanks for your blog - I really enjoy it!

  11. I think it is more important to have their respect than being called what you are supposed to be. Still, I think there should be an agreement among teachers on what to or not to allow the students. If it is the school's policy to insist on Mr. and Mrs. it may not be the best idea to omit that. You cannot insist on it, either, if nobody else does. It varies from country to country, too.

  12. I really liked your post about 'Mr' at school. But what would be your view on college/university? I am an English professor and translator from India. In India, we always call our teachers as 'sir' or 'ma'am' at the university, taking cue from the old British way of doing things. I find it obnoxious but cannot get away from the system.

    Please see my blog, http://issuesinacademics.blogspot.com

    Roomy Naqvy

  13. I enjoyed reading this post. My professor had a discussion with us near the beginning of the school year about the professionalism that should be shown in the classroom. She asked us to call her "Mrs.", not only because it is the professional thing to do, but also because the university requires it. We do observations at a school once a week, and she told us to make sure we have the students call us Ms. or Mr. and our last names. The point she made was that if students are allowed to call teachers by their first names, then the "I'm your friend" idea is established rather than "I'm your teacher, the adult" idea. To Roomy Naqvy, perhaps your university has a policy on it as does my university. Professors who have earned a doctorate degree are to be called Dr. and their last name, and anyone else is just to be called Ms. or Mr. I think students at younger grades should use the Ms. or Mr. and the last name because it establishes the respect for adults at an early age. As for junior high and high school students, I think the use of only the last name or a Ms. or Mr. should be a decision the teacher makes individually or with his or her class.