Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What’s your opinion on having students call you by your first name? A student responds

What’s your opinion on having students call you by your first name? A twelve word, simple sentence launched an all out comment war. The opinions are radically different, but all are supported and equally respected in the BATs community. Three hours and 416 comments later I decide that now is an appropriate time to toss my two cents into the wishing well. 

I wish adults would recognize not only myself, but my peers as legitimate actors in this place we call society. I felt disheartened by a few comments that stated that children and teachers are not equal therefore all students MUST call his/her teacher by his/her last name. My problem does not stem from whether or not I call my teacher by first or last name but that a college degree separates me from being consider an equal. Honestly, what so different between us? We both have ideas, opinions, thoughts, and ways to express all of those. We both breathe the same air, drink the same water and live on the same earth. The meaning of equality is not that I am equal to you because I have worked as hard as you have, or because I hold the same degree as you. The meaning of equality is that I am equal to you because we are all human. We are all here on this planet together, and that establishes us as equals. I should not have to work or fight for that. 

I wish that instead of basing respect off of what someone calls us, we base respect off of relationships and bonds formed in the classroom. If a teacher tells me it's okay to call him by his first name then I do not respect him any less than I would if he asked me to call him by his last name. If a teacher feels that addressing him by his first name is disrespectful then as a student I will accept that. My respect for my teacher is not based on his/her name, but the way I am treated in the classroom, the way education is approached in the classroom, and the care and (sometimes tough) love I receive in the classroom. I want to enjoy learning so in most cases I do not focus on a frivolous detail such as my teacher’s name. 

I wish that instead of waging a war against each other we can collectively confront the forces that continue to push against your profession and my education. We have to be clear that we are not two ships sailing in the dark, we are in the same ocean, region, boat, and cabin of this ship. If we do not realize that this is a collective struggle and start standing with each other then public education will continue to sink at a faster rate than the titanic. Until we come together as one force we will continue to hit icebergs such as Cami Anderson, John Deasy, William Hite, Rahm Emanuel, Michelle Rhee, and Arne Duncan. 

As a student who has organized and mobilized thousands of students for walkouts, boycotts, street shutdowns, and even sat in the board of education for 17 hours in order to protect the profession of education, it bothers me that just because I'm not 18 years old, or just because I do not hold a degree, or just because I am your student I am less than you. As an aspiring teacher I write this out of love for the continuous process of being a life long learner and out of the love for public education.

- Kristin Kowkaniuk ~ President of Newark Students Union


  1. This is wonderful Kristin. Thank you for using your student voice. Please never remain silent. ^o^

  2. Kristin, I appreciate you and the rest of the students in the Newark Students Union. Feel free to call me by my name anytime you want!

    From a fellow Kristin

  3. Kudos to you, Miss Kowtanluk! And kudos to every adult that has ever inspired you or influenced you to become the thoughtful young woman you are today. Excellent piece of writing!

  4. Bravo, Kristin! Beautifully and powerfully stated.

  5. Kristen,

    I agree with your sentiments and admire your activism.

    I would not, however, encourage students to use my first name.

    Teachers generally have more power than students, not due to any personal superiority but due to the socially sanctioned role they fulfill. Teachers have an obligation to refrain from using their students to fulfill needs (whether social, emotional, or sexual) that should be fulfilled by other adults. Obviously, some teachers respect these boundaries while using their first names, and others violate them while styling themselves Mr. or Ms. So-And-So.

    For me, however, using the more formal version of my name is a way of reminding myself and my students of the responsibilities I must fulfill and of the boundaries I must respect as I play a very specific role in their lives.

    When I was a senior in high school, I had the highest SAT score in my congressional district, and thus was able, in turn, to recognize one of my former teachers for his excellence. I selected a teacher I had had in middle school, a man who has had a huge (positive) influence on the course of my life.

    He gave me a ride to the award ceremony. During this car trip, he informed me that now that I was an adult, we could be friends. He told me to call him by his first name. He then told me about details of his sexual history that I would definitely have preferred NOT to know about. At the time I was 18 and no longer his student, but I would have much preferred that he continue to treat me more like a student and less like a . . . very close, very adult, friend?

    Again, I don't think the first name/last name thing is the make-or-break issue here, but there is a boundary between students and teachers that should be respected. For me, the use of my last name affirms the special character of that relationship.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.