At every back-to-school night I can remember, I made a point of introducing myself to the women and men who taught my three children. It went this way: “I’m John Merrow, (name of child)’s Dad.” And the teacher would smile and respond, “I’m Mrs. Hobson,” or, “I’m Mr. Blair,” or, “I’m Ms. Anderson.”
No first names … ever. Just a studied formality that created a distance between us. Perhaps this “professional” behavior was supposed to establish a barrier, just as doctors almost never reveal their first name when you meet them. Perhaps it’s the teachers’ way of letting parents know there’s a pecking order … and that they’re on top.
But I’ve come to believe differently. I think most teachers adopt an aloof stance because they are unsure of the status of teaching generally … and because they are painfully aware of the low regard that most administrators, many politicians, and some in the general public have for them.
In other words, the roots of their formality are in their insecurity, not their confidence.
And you can do something about that. It’s a small step, but you know what they say about how journeys begin. Do what’s necessary to ensure that all of your school’s teachers have business cards, which they can give to parents on those back-to-school nights. In the world of professionals, business cards come with the territory. Therefore, if we want our teachers to see themselves as professionals, they should have business cards.
And the back-to-school night introductory meetings with parents will then go something like this: “I’m Nancy Hobson. Thanks for making the effort to be here tonight. I’m happy to be teaching your children, and I want to work with you to see that they do great things this year. Here’s my card. It has my email address and my phone number, and I want you to reach out to me if you have any concerns or questions.”
Here’s what mine might look like if I were transported back in time to my teaching days in the mid-’60s:
A box of 250 business cards costs just over $15. So if your school has 40 teachers, the PTA needs to raise about $600. But — this is important — do not under any circumstances allow some business to sponsor the business cards and put their own name on each card. Yes, that would save a few bucks, but it would render the cards USELESS, because it would convey to the teachers that you didn’t care enough to pay for the cards!
(I know this from experience: At one of my college reunions, we allowed a local bank to sponsor the windbreakers, which had their logo splashed all over them; I don’t think any of us ever wore them!)
This step may strike some as exceedingly small, even trivial, but I would disagree. Supporting teachers means treating them as professionals. We want them to recognize that education is a team sport, and we want them to be eager to work in partnership with parents. This small step is not a substitute for other, bigger ones, but it’s of a piece with an essential campaign to save public education from predators and ideologues. It all matters.
John Merrow is the author of the blog themerrowreport.com, and the book “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education”; he’s been an education correspondent for “PBS NewsHour” and NPR.