Behaviour: Nicknames

25th March 2011 at 00:00
I am a young woman and some pupils in Year 10 have taken to calling me by a nickname. Apparently, it's because I look like a (tarty) character from the film of one of their GCSE texts. What can we do about it?

What you said

They are kids - and I used to do the same. However, there is a sexual harassment element to your situation that you should deal with as forcefully as possible if it ever becomes overt and you can pin it down.


No matter how inoffensive, many teachers on the senior leadership team will try to discipline teachers who have "a bit of fun" at the students' expense. So I think it is entirely inappropriate for students to call teachers names, even if it is lighthearted fun.


It's not easy to be an authority figure at the best of times; impossible if there is a lot of muttering and sniggering going on when people are supposed to be focused on learning.



This is a tough one because at times using nicknames with pupils can help to build relationships. However, pupils doing the same with teachers can easily overstep the mark. Your biggest problem, if you are comfortable with the name, is when pupils who understand its origins start to use it outside the classroom. Unfortunately, other pupils will join in, but without the respect that you have earned from your own class.

If you feel uncomfortable with what you have been called, you need to deal with it straight away. First, laugh about it, but state that it is not appropriate for them to call a teacher by that name. If someone does it again, remind them that they have been asked not to do it. If they use it again then set a detention.

It is vital that you "read" the students' intention. I have a very strong Birmingham accent and teach in Cheshire, so I stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. Students will mimic and exaggerate my voice, but I am comfortable with this and turn it into a joke. This keeps the atmosphere relaxed and we can move on. However, if a student I do not teach or do not know aims the same joke at me I talk to them quietly. Call them over casually and judge if they are out to offend or simply to join in with the joke. If their intention is to be offensive, again I go through the sanctions and say it is inappropriate to talk to a member of staff in this way.

You could pull any persistent offenders to one side, and to keep the conversation relaxed say that you appreciate the joke, but if the head heard them they could get into trouble and you do not want that.

Chris Wheeler is head of RE at Helsby High School in Cheshire. For more advice, go to



- Keep calm. If you react in an extreme way, they may respond by using the nickname even more.

- Keep the atmosphere relaxed. Laugh at the joke the first time, but warn persistent offenders that it's not acceptable to keep repeating it.


- Ignore pupils who use the nickname maliciously, or if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Deal with them immediately.

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