What's In A Name In A Preschool Classroom?

When you walk into the early learning center that I direct, you find children making choices, producing only child-created crafts and participating in a great deal of exploration & self-discovery.  The atmosphere is relaxed and allows children to build their knowledge at their own pace by choosing from a plethora of offered experiences.  It is a place where children acquire a foundation that matters – one of self-esteem, self-help, critical thinking & decision making skills and a love of learning.  A parent pointed out to me recently that she admires that in this child-centered environment, we teach the children to call us by last name.

In my school, I am Mrs. Terebush.   I am not Miss Cindy.  I have heard the argument that first names are easier to pronounce.  No.  The youngest children in my program, age 2 ½ years, do a really good job of saying Terebush.  It may not be perfect but it is always understandable.  They learn it like they do every other word – by hearing it over and over.  Surely, a child who can say, “Crackers, please” can master many last names.

I have also heard that many preschools use Miss with a first name to create an atmosphere of friendliness.  I don’t understand why Miss Smith is automatically less friendly than Miss Jenny.  Over the years being a teacher, then director, then consultant, I have seen some Miss Jennys and Miss Sues speak to the children in a tone that was less than friendly.  A warm atmosphere is created by warm people and not by the decision to use a first name.

One of the goals of preschool should be to help prepare children for the upcoming elementary school years.  We teach them to put on their coats and open their own lunches.  We teach them to sit nicely together and to negotiate play.  We take individuals and show them how to function as a class.  None of these children will go to kindergarten and be able to call the teacher Miss Anne or Mr. Joe.  Calling the teacher by last name is a part of being in a school in this country.

Calling a teacher by last name may be one of the last vestiges of a time when all adults were referred to by last name as a sign of respect.  I am always impressed when my son’s teenage friends speak to me and say “Mrs. Terebush” without hesitation.  My immediate response is to think that the teenager was raised to be respectful of adults.  I will tell teens that they can call me “Cindy” but I appreciate the fact that I need to give that permission.  We are not equals.  There is and should be a societal pecking order.  At the very least, people should be afforded the respect they have earned.  Teachers are authorities and are educated.  Just as we teach preschoolers to call their doctor by his title and last name, so should they be taught to call their teachers by last name.  It is not wrong to teach respect.

I sit in the small chairs to interact with our preschoolers.  I laugh with them and play with them.  I hold upset children and comfort them.  I give them every opportunity to learn, grow and feel loved.  I teach them respect by respecting them.  I am proud to say that I am loved by them even though my name is Mrs. Terebush.

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  1. I have spent much time considering this "debate" over the years. I understand what you are saying and although I am not in disagreement, I have found over the years to be more relaxed about this issue.

    I refer to myself as Mrs. Stewart and my assistant goes by Mrs. Courtney (this was her choice). I have one child that calls me Miss Debbie. I think this is because her mommy and daddy refer to me this way. I don't worry about it in any case. I think that the name the children at this age call me (Mrs. Stewart or Miss Debbie) isn't reflective of their respect or disrespect but rather reflective of what they (or their parents)feel most comfortable with.

    Once the children head off to grade school, addressing adults with their formal name will be expected soon enough and the kids will naturally learn to meet this expectation. Sure, preschoolers are capable of learning any name we teach them but they are also capable of learning respect with or without using a teacher's formal name.

    1. I have also been back and forth on this issue over the years but I think I have landed on the side of it being the norm in the years ahead.
      When a child calls me Miss Cindy, I honestly don't correct it. I just reply to him/her. They learn to call us by last name because we refer to each other that way when talking in front of them and with other students.
      I agree that they can be respectful either way. I do think it is akin to teaching all the other skills that we teach to prepare them for the years ahead.

  2. Interesting blog. I'd like to offer an alternative view. I live in New Zealand and am involved in a parent cooperative ECE organisation where all children call adults by their first names, no miss, simply Dalene. I think using words like Miss has potential of creating a power imbalance. In New Zealand we have a Maori word 'ako' which means to be a teacher and a learner at the same time. For children to genuinely take the teacher roles in their relationships I think the power imbalance have to be minimised as much as it possible. Of course most of our children continue on to school and then call their teachers Miss and Mister no problem :)


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