DailyMail: Calling a female teacher “Miss” is sexist and should be banned in the classroom, academics have demanded. Pupils should instead refer to teachers by their first names – or even call all women at school “Sir” – to end the discrimination.
Calling teachers “Miss” allegedly exposes children “to the prejudices of the previous generation”, experts writing in the influential education journal the Times Educational Supplement said.
The titles used in British schools can be traced back hundreds of years, the academics said. Sir was first used in 16th century classrooms when male teachers from the lower classes were trying to stamp their authority on aristocratic young boys.
But Miss is a throwback to the 1800s when schools only hired single female teachers – because women gave up work after marrying.
Jennifer Coates, a top professor of English at Roehampton University, said the traditional titles in schools needed to be scrapped. She said: “It’s a depressing example of how women are given low status and men, no matter how young or new in the job they are, are given high status.”
“Sir is a knight. There weren’t women knights, but “Miss” is ridiculous: it doesn’t match “Sir” at all. It’s just one of the names you can call an unmarried woman.”
The academic complained that when she went to teach at her local secondary school the children did not call her “Professor”. “I was extremely surprised,” she said.
“The men on the staff are all in their twenties and they were all called Sir. I didn’t think there was this awful disparity between professorial status and these young teachers, but they’re all Sir and I’m not.”
She claimed that Sir comes from “Sire” – which is what people called the king. Professor Coates claimed that “part of the history of the English language is sexism”.
Robin Lakoff, a professor at the University of California, added: “The thing about Sir is that it always conveys respect.” She said: “It always means that this person is higher in status than me, and I owe them respect for that. Miss doesn’t.”
“You can use Miss disparagingly: ‘Hey, Miss, what do you think you’re doing?”
“It says that you can never expect the respect that’s due to a man because you’re not a man and therefore not as good. It’s very hard to create linguistic equality between people, who in many people’s minds, aren’t equal.”
Education historian Jacob Middleton told the teaching journal that Britain should “probably want to go down the route of referring to female teachers as Sir as well”. He said this would “raise the semantic status of women“.
Sara Mills, a professor specializing in “feminist linguistics” at Sheffield Hallam University said pupils should call teachers by their first names only. “That’s the way things are moving,” she said. “Americanisation and these camaraderie norms, where you move as quickly as possible to the most informal term. I think that’s a driver of a lot of things in English culture and English language at the moment.”
“Sometimes teachers find that they can control students more when they try to stress the similarities between them, rather than trying to keep as distant as possible.”
Professor Lakoff claimed all male teachers should be called “Mr” followed by their surname and all female teachers as “Ms” followed by their surname.
But Debbie Costlett, a chief executive overseeing the three schools in south-east England rejected the claim the “Miss” was sexist. She said: “I don’t really think there’s a disparity between them. It’s a title, isn’t it? My response is always that my name isn’t Miss; it’s Mrs. Coslett.”
“But if I’m in a school where students don’t know me and they call me Miss, I’m fine with that. They’re showing respect by giving me a title, rather than “hey” or “you” or whatever. Sir is a term you might call a man.”
“You wouldn’t call anyone Mrs or Lady or Dame or whatever. That’s just the way the English language works.”