Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Imposing one's Ethos vs. the Wonderful Neutrality of (the Queen's) English
The Today programme just did a package on the Birmingham schools that are under investigation at the moment as part of the "Trojan horse" enquiry. In an interview, a fourteen-year-old pupil said that it wasn't surprising that the school had an Islamic ethos since it was about 99% Muslim, at which the reporter rebuked her, pointing out that as it wasn't a faith school but an ordinary state school it shouldn't have any kind of religious ethos.

Five minutes later, the programme reported on a plan to do away with the sexist terms "Sir" and "Miss" in schools, citing a professor from Sheffield Hallam as suggesting that pupils should use "Christian names" instead. Sigh. I very much doubt that the professor actually used that phrase: this report refers only to first names - so probably this was the BBC showing its "Christian ethos".

Incidentally, last week I was helping out with a school play for a project I'm involved in, and was universally addressed as "Miss" by the 8-year-old pupils there. It felt... weird. (Fwiw, the project is about the experiences of the Somali community in Bristol, and a lot of the children were Muslim.)

Where I work, female teachers are commonly called "Ma'am," which feels weird to me as well, although possibly slightly less insulting than "Miss" would? How would you feel about "Ma'am"?

In this country "Ma'am" is mostly reserved for the armed forces and the police (or, with a short vowel, the queen), and those associations would also feel odd, to be honest. Names might be preferable, but of course not every pupil will know every teacher's name in a large school, so it's a tricky one!

On reflection, "Sensei" seems the best solution to me.

There are certainly students who don't know my name, but all of the ones in my actual classes ought to know my name! And yet they call me "Ma'am" anyway. . . .

At my previous school, with more students from less privileged background, the habit was to call teachers of whatever sex "'cher." I would definitely have preferred "Sensei."

Now I'm thinking the queen gets the long-vowel version. Suddenly I'm uncertain! But since I will certainly never use either I'm not too worried...


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