I found myself sitting on a chair much too small recently and addressing individuals younger than myself as “mister” or “missus.”
The time of the parent/teacher conference was upon me.
When I was a kid, I dreaded such conferences.
I remember when I was 8, my teacher lifted my desktop to show my parents weeks-old lunches, gnawed pencils and mounds of graded papers that somehow never made their way home.
Sorry, Mrs. Wilson. I can safely say that after 30 years in the workforce I still have a messy desk, and it hasn’t hindered me one bit. Too often schools teach conformity rather than critical thinking.
But, sometimes conformity in the classroom is a good thing. Take for instance when I was 10; I accompanied my mother to a parent/teacher conference where the conversation with an educator we’ll call “Mr. Jones” went something like this:
Mr. Jones: “Does Scott have any brothers or sisters?”
Mom: “Yes, he has two. Do you and your wife have any children?”
Mr. Jones: “No. I’m sterile. My wife and I keep trying and trying, but nothing happens.”
At this point my teacher was sobbing, and I’m tugging on my bewildered mother’s sleeve asking in a rather loud voice, “What’s sterile mean?”
While Mr. Jones has his head buried in his hands blubbering about his infertility, my tall mother is sitting at a table much too short consoling a man she just met and trying her darndest to hush her son.
Now that I’m a grownup, I am once again attending parent/teacher conferences.
I’m pleased to report that none of my three daughters’ teachers burst into tears during the conference or felt the need to share his or her fertility status. And, no, the interiors of their desks were not exhibited as possible sites for future archeological digs.
But, there is one peculiar aspect of these visits. It’s this courtesy title business. I understand why we have children address their teachers as Mr., Mrs. or Miss, but it has never made much sense why schools expect other adults to address educators in this manner.
It seems, well, pretentious.
After all, I call my doctor, “Valerie,” my pastor, “Jeff,” my dentist “Karl,” my lawyer “Scott” and my state representative, “Tim.”
And all of the editors and publishers I’ve ever worked for during the last 30 years I addressed by their first names. So, the only time I find myself using courtesy titles like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” is when I’m around my kids’ teachers.
I guess there is nothing wrong with the custom, but it seems a rather stilted way to address another adult.
But that is what is expected, so that’s what I’ll do.
However, I’d much rather address them by their first names. To me, greeting people by their given names expresses warmth and friendship and isn’t so, well, sterile.
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder, a veteran statehouse journalist, works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area. He can be contacted at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.