How do children address their teachers across the globe?
Do children use the teacher's first name, surname or just 'teacher' – and what does this reflect about local culture?
A BBC article once quoted Prof Jennifer Coates saying that calling male teachers 'sir' but addressing female teachers as 'miss' gives female teachers a lower status than males in British schools, and is sexist. In general, British teachers are indeed referred to as 'Miss' or 'Sir' or 'Miss/Mrs' or 'Mr' and their last names. Apparently some British schools are moving towards pupils addressing teachers by their first names, trying to close the distance between teachers and their students, which is how it is in the Netherlands.
In the Dutch education system, children address teachers by their first name, using juf or juffrouw as a title for a female and meester for a male teacher, unlike when I was in school. For us, instead it was quite the game to try and find out our teachers' first names – and if we did, it was an occasion for hilarity. Looking back, I have no idea why – maybe it had a sense of taboo in that we weren't supposed to know their names. No such fun for Dutch school goers.
But it got me wondering: How do children in other countries address their teachers? So I asked the amazing Multicultural Kids Blogs bloggers. Below is a collection of their accounts on how teachers are addressed in countries across the globe – and interestingly, it shows that how we address our teachers is truly cultural.
I'm a teacher at an Australian primary school (ages six to 12) and we are always addressed as Mr/Mrs/Ms and surname. Sometimes if a teacher has a long or difficult-to-pronounce name, it is shortened to Mr P etc. – Anonymous
Generally in Brazil, students use the first name of their teacher. If the students are still quite young, they often put 'tia/tio' (aunt/uncle) in front of the name. Tia/tio is a universal term of respect that young people use for their elders, regardless of relationship. – Stephen Greene, Head of the Herd
In China, children use the teacher's last name and add 'lao shi '(teacher) after it. If it is a foreign teacher, then they say 'teacher' and add the teacher's first name (eg. teacher Varya) – although I go by teacher V because no one can pronounce my name properly! – Varya of Little Artists
In Ecuador they used to say Miss _____ (first name) and Mister _____ where I went to school. – Diana Limongi Gabriele of Spanglish baby
In Finland, it's first names or even nick-names with teachers, no titles or surnames. The whole society is very informal. I don't think that even the president would flinch if someone called him by his first name. – Rita Rosenback of Multilingual Parenting
In France, it depends on the teacher. It can be 'Madame/ Mademoiselle/ Monsieur X' or it can also be the first name and adressed as 'vous' or first name and tu (=you) but the last one is more for the kids in pre-school." – Eolia Scarlett Disler
My niece in France uses the polite form 'vous' and Mrs C: Madame C. She is in primary school. – Annabelle Humanes
It's also very common for kids to use the terms 'maîtresse' and 'maître' for female and male teachers respectively, meaning simply 'teacher' (for primary school age six to 10). Pre-schoolers (three to six) usually use first names and secondary students use 'Monsieur' and 'Madame'. – Phoebe from The Lou Messugo Blog
In France students will say simply 'maîtresse' or 'maître' (meaning teacher, femine/masculine) by itself when asking a question or trying to get his/her attention. In maternelle (pre-school) the teachers went by their first names for the students. Beginning at elementary, it changes to to 'Madame' or 'Monsieur' (plus last name of teacher). – Jennifer Poe-Faugere
In Germany at kindergarten, kids use the first names and 'Du'. – Annabelle Humanes
In Germany, students address teachers by using 'Herr/Frau' and surname, using 'Sie' as the polite form (Herr Schmidt, koennen Sie...). Teachers address students by their names, but when the students are over 16 years old they also get 'sietzt' – addressed using 'Sie'. Sometimes teachers would use first name and 'Sie'. – Olga Mecking
In preschool (three to five years) in Italy children use just teachers' first names. – Galina Nikitina of Raising a Trilingual Child
Similar to China, my students in Korea added the word for teacher – 'seonsaengnim' or the abbreviated 'saem' – after the full/first name. Or sometimes they just used saem. It felt strange to have students address me by my first name (I'm American). – Marielle
In Latvia you commonly avoid using names or surnames but simply address them as teacher (skolotāj) and use the polite form 'jūs', which is akin to the German 'Sie' or French 'vous'. Talking to a third person, you'd say teacher and then add the last name, though by high school when talking with other students you'd just use the surname or name of the teacher. But you'd never address a teacher that way as it would be considered disrespectful. – Ilze Ievina
In Arabic class it's 'usted' or 'usteda' and French 'maîtresse'. No names; just the word teacher. – Amanda Ponzio Mouttaki
In Poland, it's 'pan/pani' (sir/madam) and the pupils get called by their names. In secondary school, the students sometimes address their teachers with 'pan profesor' or 'pani profesor' – even if the teachers are not professors. – Olga Mecking
In Portugal, in primary school, children refer to the teachers as 'Sra. Professora' (female)/'Sr. Professor' (male) or by their first name. In high school, they call them 'stora' and 'stor', which is an abbreviation of 'Professora/Professor'. – Joanna
In Russia children use full names to address teachers: first name + patronymic. How does a patronymic form? Let's say a teacher's name is Ivan, and his father's name is Mikhail. His full name will be Ivan Mikhailovich (which is rather like 'Mikhail's'). Last name + first name + patronymic is what you will find in Russian documents. It is very common to use full names when addressing an older person, co-worker or a stranger, though less common than in the past. In the last couple of decades there is a tendency to use only first names, but not for teachers. – Liska Myers at Adventure in a Box
In Russia, we address by teachers by their first names with patronymic (a variation of father's name that is added after the first name in our passports) – it is a general official way of addressing people. – Varya of Little Artists
In Spain, our kids just use the teachers' first names. – Kara Haberbush Suro of Our Whole Village
When we lived in the US, kids used first names but we lived in San Francisco and it really varies by region. In other parts of the US, kids use either Ms/Mr and the first name or the last name. – Kara Haberbush Suro of Our Whole Village
Ms (first name) in Berkeley California. – Stephanie Meade of InCulture Parent
In the US, children (elementary school age and up) typically refer to their teachers as Mr or Mrs. My children go to a French International School where the elementary school English teachers are referred to as Mr and Mrs and the French teachers go by their first names. – Aimee, of Raising World Citizens
My children go to a Mandarin immersion school in California, and they call Chinese teachers by their name (given or surname depending on teachers' preference). I believe in mainland China they would always use surname + lao shi, which means teacher. Their English teachers use Miss/Ms/Mr + given (first) name. – Sophie Beach
East coast US, more old-school: Mrs/Dr/Mr (last name). I think calling them by first names would get them in big trouble! – Homa Sabet Tavangar
Amanda van Mulligen is a British expat who has made the Netherlands her home. She has three Dutch sons who are tinged with Britishness, and a pure bred Dutch husband. She is also a published author, freelance writer and blogger. You can read her blog at Expat Life with a double buggy where she scribbles about her expat way of loving, living and parenting. You can catch up with her on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
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