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Friday, September 03, 2010

ESL Teacher Blog: 'Teacher, What Page?' - Addressing a Teacher in Class

In our adult ESL classes here in Toronto our students call us (the instructors) by our first name or more rarely Mrs./Mr. + last name. I ask my students to call me Olga. Throughout the course I write my name on the board a few times and use it in sample sentences or made-up stories when I explain new words or structures, and yet some students persistently call me ‘teacher’ or Mrs. Olga.
True, we say ‘driver, can you please open the door?’, but ‘teacher, I have a question’ sounds impersonal. Similarly, we don’t say 'excuse me, cashier, or bank teller' - we read a name tag or ask for a name. Addressing each person by his/her name before starting a conversation is an important life skill and worth an effort to emphasize in class.
Mrs. Olga sounds quite amusing too - this probably comes from different perceptions of distance between a student or a teacher. Just ‘Olga’ sounds disrespectful for students with higher levels of power distance and they feel better if they use Mrs.
It’s hard to make students ‘unlearn’ addressing their instructor as ‘teacher’. But I find the following activity can be a memorable way to keep the importance of addressing people in the right way in mind:
Read the list of terms (1-15) below.  Match the term to the correct group of people (A-E) that you could address using this term. 
A-casual friend or acquaintance
B-superior i.e. boss, teacher, customer etc.
C-close friend
D-girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse

bro - C
sugar __
miss __

boy __
ma’am __
old man/woman __
dude __
Mr./Ms./Mrs./Prof. __
sir __
girl __
sweetheart __
baby __
first name (i.e. Lucy) __
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 11:52 PM
Monday, September 06, 2010 AT 9:28 AM
trice said:
I always find that an interesting question as well - I usually ask my university students to call me Miss or Ms and my last name, but for the majority this turns into my last name alone. I've let that go, although perhaps I shouldn't have since this teaches them an unorthodox manner of address in English. But then, when I was in college, we often did the same thing with our professors' names, so it didn't seem too unusual. I have a few who have seen my first name on their schedules and start calling me this, but this always surprises me and seems almost uncomfortably familiar - I don't think of myself as a formal person, but in my classes I felt that the last name sets up more of a teacher-student dynamic (perhaps I'm being too hierarchical). Still working it out for myself I guess, but for now I lean toward the last name.

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