Thursday, 15 May 2014

Please Miss!


I began teaching in school 38 years ago – and my “Working Title” then was Miss Hall. I was working in a secondary school, and I was only 3 years older than some of the pupils. I was shorter than most of them too! It was really important to me that there was some ‘distance’ between us, that I carried authority because of my position as a member of staff. In 1979 I became Mrs Almond. After a maternity break from 1982-1989, I returned to the classroom.

I have done part-time supply teaching on and off ever since, most of this being in Primary Schools. I am still Mrs Almond. And I like it that way. I get called ‘Miss’ and occasionally ‘Sir’ – and frequently get called by the name of the regular teacher whose class I am covering. Now and then children slip up and call me ‘Mum’. But I do not want to be called Angela, Ang, or ‘Angie’ by the children in my class. [Heaven forfend! nobody calls me Angie, I hate it]

miss jean brodie bicycle

This daft argument that children think of ‘Miss’ as an unmarried woman, and ‘Sir’ as a knight is inaccurate. Most children think of Sir and Miss as the male and female names for teachers, much as they know you have bull and cow, ram and ewe, etc. in the animal kingdom. It’s just what you call those people who teach you.

Over 90% of those who answered the Guardian’s online survey yesterday said they did not think teachers should be called by their first names. There was an excellent article on the subject too

miss jean brodie quote

This debate was sparked by Jennifer Coates, who became a volunteer at her local secondary school in London, and was introduced by the head as Professor Coates, formerly of the University of Roehampton. "Good morning, Professor Coates," the children chorused politely. Then the head left the room, a girl put up her hand, and asked "Miss, Miss can you help me?" Coates was surprised. Why? I doubt they memorised her name when she was introduced, and she ought to be grateful that the girl both put up her hand and called her ‘Miss’ – indications of politeness and respect. [The woman clearly expected to be called ‘Professor’ not Jennifer]

My other teaching rant of the week – The level-six English reading SAT taken by about 100,000 primary school pupils in England on Monday – designed to test the most able year 6 pupils – contained contradictory rules on how long pupils had to answer questions, with the exam paper telling pupils they had an hour but the instructions to invigilators saying they had 50 minutes following 10 minutes restricted to reading only, and there was also an error in the level 3-5 reading paper too. A significant number of schools have complained. It seems that the people at the Standards and Testing Agency made the errors because they ‘cut and pasted’ things without checking the contents. Does nobody proof read this stuff?

prime magnet

Liz gave me this wonderful fridge magnet years ago – knowing my fondness for Miss Brodie!

I love teaching, I get a real buzz from seeing children learn, soaking up facts like sponges, mastering new skills, growing in confidence, building relationships…but some days I find the politics and the constantly moving goalposts so very frustrating!


  1. Of course, finding out a teacher's first name and using it behind their back was de rigeur (sp?) when I was at at school!!!

  2. I've noticed that when talking to teachers, they often refer to other members of staff by their first names. I must be old fashioned but I feel uncomfortable with that. My son's headteacher at primary asked me to call her by her first name but I never ever did. I think there needs to be distance and respect. Teachers are not our children's friends. I also object to teachers telling children when it's their birthdays etc. Perhaps it's just such a contrast from the relationship we had with our teachers at school, but we had respect for them.

  3. Call teachers by their first names? God forbid!
    Jane x

  4. It certainly wasn't the teaching or the children that led to my early retirement but a large part of my decision to leave was, as you say, the politics and the ever-changing goalposts. As soon as we'd settled into one routine some higher authority told us we were doing it all wrong. New ideas came and went. I think I was on the 'third time around' when I decided to call it a day.
    Love from Mum

  5. I've experienced both. On my first PGCE placement, we were called by our first names. I didn't mind it, but I prefer to be called Mrs P now (although there's a large proportion who still call me Miss A!). Calling somebody Miss/Sir etc, already engenders a level of respect, because they've had to think to call you that! x

  6. Yes, yes, yes to all of your comments. Although I do think that that indefinable "presence" that good teachers have always indicates who's in charge, and that a polite, but not familiar, term of address is fine. SATs, testing and the tick box mentality of measuring the things that are easy to measure and not the things that are less easy to measure, but much, much, more valuable such as application, enquiry and the enthusiasm and ability to learn, all of which stand a pupil in good stead for the rest of their lives - well, don't get me started! Political interference... just because everyone's been to school it doesn't make them an expert in education. I've always thought that each Secretary of State for Education wants to make their mark on schools, and that's why they instigate so many changes. Eventually you see the pendulum swing back the other way and know that we've all been here before! I don't recall any politician saying what should be taught less in order to free up time for their latest initiatives.
    When doing SATs do pupils get extra time as they do at GCSE and A level? I haven't yet figured out how extra time, having a scribe or a reader during exams translates into real life post school - can anyone out there enlighten me please? I've just watched Masterchef - no extra time there!
    The satisfaction of seeing children learn, master skills and understand new concepts is very rewarding despite all the politics and seemingly constant changes.
    Vee x


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