Help! My Students Call Me by My First Name and Now My Colleagues Are Offended

You do you.

Teacher next to white board with Emma written in green

This week, Ask WeAreTeachers takes on letting students call you by your first name, helping parents with a kid who lies, and more.

I choose to let my students call me by my first name, and the disapproval is everywhere. Is this a “me problem”?

I’m 26 years old, and I teach 9th grade English. I went to a school where using first names was common, and I’ve chosen to do the same with my students. To be honest, I didn’t even consider anything else. Well, it turns out I am the only teacher in my suburban public school who  does it, and other teachers disapprove. They’ve implied and straight out told me they think it’s disrespectful. Our admin hasn’t weighed in, and officially there’s not a policy against it. It’s what I want to be called, and I don’t think I should have to change my preference, but I don’t want everyone to hate me either. —Don’t Call Me Miss

Dear D.C.M.M.,

Personally, I had a bad experience letting students call me by my first name. At barely 21, right out of college, I taught a high school dance team of 36 teenage girls. I thought it made sense to go by my first name, but it ended up undermining my authority. But if there’s no policy regarding honorifics, then you’re free to go by what you like, as long as it isn’t causing any issues with your students.

Your colleagues are another story entirely. It’s not really any of their business how your students address you because it doesn’t affect them. That being said, if you care about the relationships or are concerned about your reputation, you should approach them. It could be helpful to find out what their specific objections are. Maybe it’s about personal separation between student and teacher, or perhaps they think students are doing it to get under your skin. A quick chat can clear the air.


Again, you can do what you like within guidelines, but it doesn’t hurt to consider school culture. And keep in mind that Ms. First Name can be a good compromise.

One of my third graders lies about her schoolwork, and her parents want me to fix it.

Here’s the story. We are currently in a hybrid setting with two days in person and three days virtual. The parents of one of my third graders reached out to me last week asking for my help. She’s having attention issues in both learning environments, but they’re most worried about her constant lying. They don’t tend to be tall tales or little white lies. It’s usually about avoiding work. She’ll tell her mom and dad that she doesn’t have any homework or that she’s already done it when she hasn’t. I’ve been teaching for more than a decade, but I’m not a parent myself, so I feel weird giving them advice about how to raise their kid. What can I say? —Kidless and Clueless

Dear K.A.C.,

First, don’t sell yourself short. I remember feeling the same way when families came to me with what felt like parenting questions before I became a mom. But the truth is, you do have relevant expertise as an experienced educator. And, as her teacher, you have a different perspective on their daughter than the parents do. It’s actually a great sign of this family’s confidence in you that they came to you for advice.

So what do you say? Teacher Melissa S. advises, “For the lying, I’d suggest clear, gentle, and firm boundaries. Use a social contract. If telling the truth is part of your social contract, and she doesn’t tell the truth, she can help decide the consequence for that behavior in advance. Then it should come as no surprise that she receives that consequence when she lies.”

It’s important to know that lying can be a possible sign of an underlying problem. According to WebMD, lying is often associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Kids with ADHD may lie as a part of their impulsivity. It wouldn’t hurt to suggest that the parents talk to their child’s pediatrician or with a behavioral specialist in your building.

I’m being forced to teach virtual kindergarten, and it’s not fair.

I just found out my principal is moving me from teaching 4th grade face to face to teaching kindergarten virtually starting next week. I’m shocked and hurt and so lost about how to handle this. I get that it’s a tough situation. The previous kindergarten teacher is out on medical leave for the rest of the year. And I do have the qualifications. Technically, I am certified PreK through 5th. But I’m upset that I was told and not asked to make this change. I hate to see my fourth graders disrupted, and I’m really going to miss them. I feel targeted by my principal even though I can see she’s in a bind too. Most of all, I am overwhelmed at the idea of teaching a totally different grade level virtually. I need some perspective. I don’t think saying no is an option. —Fourth to Kinder in 60 Seconds

Dear F.T.K.I.S.S.,

That sucks. What a disruption for everyone involved! And it’s quite a jump to go from 4th to kinder. Technically, you could go to your union. Some contracts stipulate that you can’t be moved around after a certain point in the year. But fighting the decision could also put you on your principal’s bad side, and you don’t want that. I do believe in assuming the best intentions, so here’s hoping admin had their reasons. Hey, maybe putting you there is a vote of confidence in you.

I’m not diminishing how hard it will be or your feelings on the matter, but for your own sake, I think the best path forward is to look at this as an opportunity (at the very least, it will be a good resume builder!). Teacher Sandra G. says, “See it as they believe in you and your abilities to adapt. Use it for personal and professional growth. If you think of it as a positive experience, it can become one.”

Make the best of the rest of the year (make sure to check out the resources in our guide to teaching kindergarten!), and if you continue to feel like you’re getting jerked around, you can start looking for a position in another school.

One of my best students is now failing, and it came out of nowhere.

A top student in my advisory class has completely shut down. Last quarter, he  didn’t turn in anything for his AP Calculus class, and he’s currently failing Spanish 4 and the English class he takes at the community college. At this point, I’ve done everything I can think of to get him to do the work. I’ve spoken to him one-on-one about his future and all that could be lost more times than I can count. I’ve called parents and looped in the principal. He’s more than capable. But it’s like he’s just completely lost his motivation. I feel so defeated, and I’m so tired of this damn pandemic and its effect on kids. But what more can I do?—Sick of Senioritis

Dear S.O.S.,

My heart hurts for that kid, and I know he’s not alone. Kudos to you for your efforts to help him. But I think we have to be careful about classifying this as typical high school senior burnout. As you mentioned, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Teacher Shelley B. says, “We all expect everyone to go through the worry of the pandemic, sickness, and distance learning without any repercussions at all. It is entirely unrealistic and unreasonable. Some may succeed or hide their emotions, but many won’t, and this is normal in these not normal times.”

From a practical standpoint, I would make sure your student properly drops or takes an incomplete for the college-level class. I think it’s also important that you focus in on the student’s mental health. I’d like to gently suggest that emphasizing what he could lose may not be the right approach, especially if your student is struggling with depression and anxiety. If you haven’t done so already, you should connect the student with the school counselor.

Be sure to give yourself some grace, too. A few failed classes in the middle of a global crisis are not the end of the world for either of you.

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More Advice From WeAreTeachers

I’ve been working at my school for five years now, three in third grade with the same teammate. We’ve always kind of done our own thing. But now that we’re virtual, they want to “collaborate.” Unfortunately, their definition of collaboration is just stealing my work from my Google Classroom. Sometimes they even take things before I’m done working on them and then have the nerve to complain about quality. But they still take it. How should I address this? Should I? I’m busting my tail to prep, and they’re just skating by using my work.

Help! My Students Call Me by My First Name and Now My Colleagues Are Offended