10 July 2020
This week, we received a question from Agnaldo, a teacher in Brazil. He asks,
I've seen recently that we shouldn't call a teacher "Teacher." We should call him or her by their name. Is that true? Why? Is it the same for professors? -- Agnaldo, Brazil.
This is a great question. I have taught in many countries where the common practice is for students to call me Teacher. It always sounded a little strange to me. Most Americans do not use Teacher to address a teacher in English. Sometimes Americans do use titles this way, however. For example, they might address a medical doctor as simply Doctor, a religious leader as Reverend or a judge, as Your Honor.
What should I call my teacher?
So, how should students address their teacher?
Most American teachers of children are addressed using the honorifics Miss, Mizz, Missus or Mister, with their family or last name. The last three are shortened in writing to Ms., Mrs. and Mr. The honorific Miss does not have a shortened version.
At the beginning of a school term, a teacher should tell students how to address her or him.
Suppose the teacher's name is Elissa Brown. She most likely will tell her students to call her Ms. Brown.
For men, Mr. is used.
The honorifics Miss and Mrs. identify if a woman is unmarried or married. These terms are less common in the modern world as they provide unnecessary, personal information. There is no English honorific that communicates if a man is married or single.
Colleges and universities
You also asked about professors. Generally, they also choose how they want to be addressed. It is not unusual for a professor to be addressed as Professor, however, especially in the learning setting. Here is an example sentence:
Professor, what is the difference between Mr. and Ms.?
Most university professors in America hold doctoral degrees and many of them use the title of Doctor.
Why not say "teacher?"
The second part of your question was about why "Teacher" is not a good name to call your teacher. In many cultures, using the word "Teacher" shows great respect. But for many American teachers, including me, "Teacher" is an impersonal term.
The good news is teachers of English as a second language expect cultural differences between themselves and their students. We understand our students are trying to show respect when they address us.
That's Ask a Teacher for this week.
What questions do you have about English? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Jill Robbins.
Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
practice – n. something that is done often or regularly
address – v. to use a specified name or title when speaking or writing to (someone)
honorific – n. word that is in a class of grammatical forms used in speaking to or about a social superior
impersonal – adj. having or showing no interest in individual people or their feelings : lacking emotional warmth