I never asked to be called Mr. France. In fact, no one ever asked me if that’s what I wanted to be called, either. Regardless, that’s the name by which I have been known for the past four years now, but it’s not necessarily the name by which I feel I should have been known for those four years.
Teachers won’t admit it, but they fear children. In fact, I remember my first year, fearing the children more than they feared me. Will they like me? I asked myself. Will I be able to keep control of them? Will they respect me?
This year, I decided I wanted to change things. I decided that my students would no longer call me “Mr. France.” Instead, they’d call me Paul, and this decision was both intentional and purposeful. In my opinion, being called by a title and a last name only exacerbated the stigma that comes with being a teacher, an antiquated standard that requires us to separate from our children and hold ourselves above them, all in an effort to harness a greater sense of respect from them.
What we don’t realize, though, is that by creating these rules and regulations around simple things like names, we are not actually gaining respect. Rather, we are imposing restrictions to gain compliance, and this only places a wedge between our students and us.
At the end of the day, our students do not respect us due to the formality of our names. Instead, our students respect us because of the relationships we forge with them. Calling us by our first names does not threaten that relationship; in fact, calling us by our first names has the potential to strengthen it. It represents a leveling of the playing field, and it becomes a symbol of mutual trust and respect.
In essence, our students’ respect comes as a result of the relationships we build because of the structure, support, and care that we provide every day. Our names are nothing but nominal aspects of ourselves, and by breaking down the barrier between formality and colloquialism, we invite our students to connect with us on a personal level, trust us to do what’s best for them, and create an environment where connection is valued over status.
And that’s the kind of environment I want to be in.