Why FE teachers are the Madonnas of the classroom

College students address lecturers using their first name – it's a powerful statement of equal status, says Sarah Simons
14th September 2019, 9:03am


Why FE teachers are the Madonnas of the classroom

Just Like Madonna, College Lecturers Only Use A First Name When They're At Work, Writes Sarah Simons

One of the oddest transitions for a young 'un moving from school to college is something that I don't think we as FE teachers pay much attention to. I don't usually give it a thought, but I bet they're well freaked out: they call us by our first names.

I haven't taught in schools so have never gone by "Miss", and as it's several centuries since I was a gal, I can scarcely recall using such a title to address one of my own teachers.

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By using our first names a quiet act of mutual respect is being performed, an unspoken welcome. It's signalling that teachers at college are not to be viewed as loftily revered (or reviled) grown-ups, looming above their infant charges, or defined by a gender or marital status. We are of equal status to our students, at least in name. It's a symbolic power move, not just to be allowed but encouraged to call us by our first names. And I, for one, like it.

Throughout the years, I've taught many students (including those in their thirties, forties and fifties) who, when in a heightened emotional state, be that frustration, anger or joy, have called me 'Miss'. It never fails to make me smile. It's like they've forgotten themselves for just a second and reverted back to childhood - a similar thing sometimes happens to people with very posh accents when they get cross and are twanged back through time to their regional birthplace. You can start a slanging match with Princess Anne and end it with Phil Mitchell.

College teachers aren't Mr or Miss...

I love my married name. As my trusty ManMaid (BridesBoy didn't suit him) said in his speech on my wedding day, just prior to reading out the lyrics of D.I.S.C.O. as a touching tribute: "She only married him so she can have the name of a walk-on character in Dynasty." And although I can't get anything monogrammed for fear of giving the wrong impression, I do love my name. I must admit, though, I slightly regret the way I chose to frame it on Twitter, @MrsSarahSimons.  Mrs…

There were hoards of other Sarah Simons's's's when I came to choose my Twitter address but there wasn't a Mrs. I thought it was hilarious to present myself in such a way. Anyone who knows me is well aware of how much I adore anything a bit camp. I'm mad for a bit of self-aware too-much-ness. To me, Mrs Simons sounded like a member of staff at Grace Brothers Department Store. Probably in haberdashery. And no, reader, I'm not going to do that Are You Being Served? running joke, even though I really really want to…

Anyone who knows me also knows that although my husband is objectively ace and my favourite person in the world, I do not hold with the idea of him being "my other half". What would that mean? I'm intrinsically deficit without him? Naaaaah mate. Are all my pals who are single (most of 'em through choice) nothing but broken half-shells if they are not part of a publicly declared pair? I DON'T BLOODY WELL THINK SO.

Don't get me wrong, I feel like I'm running at a surplus with Him Indoors hanging around the place, but that's perhaps because we add to each other's individual completeness, not because we start from a point of gaping deficiency. Still, I didn't Twit-label myself "Mrs" because I'm grateful. When I performed that self-christening I forgot that everyone who wanders past on the internet doesn't necessarily have my own personal manifesto to hand, and might think of my choice of handle as a bit Offredy.

Aaaah, shove it. "What's in a name? that which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet." Hmmmm, easy for him to say…

Though I suspect few of my students can even remember my surname, it's actually quite liberating to forget about the status related to gendered titles and to just be known at work by a first name. We are the Madonnas of the classroom.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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