At the City and Country School, teachers are called by their first names everyday. This is part of the casual environment at C&C. Although, it may one of our school’s many traditions and unique features, some teachers may not feel comfortable with this policy right now. Other different things about C&C are the independence and freedom that students have, having a weak dress code, and allowing lateness to school.
Caroline Pratt, founder of C&C, originally wanted to create a “school that empowered children to stand up to their employers or bosses during a time when there was a lot of child labor and children were exploited,” said Ann Roberts, Xllls Co-teacher. In order to create confidence and strength of character amongst children, they needed to be able to stand up to their bosses. Children during this time had to grow up feeling unequal from people of higher power. Having everyone call each other by first names was the solution so that everyone was of equal value in C&C. In a traditional setting, students call teachers by their last names in order to show respect.
“However, in Caroline’s world, she did not want that form of respect. She wanted people to have enough self respect so they could talk to each other in a way to indicate that they were of equal value. Caroline attempted to create a group of children that could not be exploited. Although, the fact that we are in a different world now is problematic,” said Ann.
“Age alone does not earn you respect,” said Pratt. Pratt believed that people earned respect over time, not because of age and power.
“I took me a while to get used to [being called by my first name] although I have always understood and appreciated it because of my son. If I had not had a child at C&C, I would not understand it like I do now. I think it works here, but you really have to get used to the system when coming,” said Ann.
“I think that students can misinterpret being able to call teachers by their first names. Calling teachers by our first names might be interpreted as license to push back in a way that does not always come from a genuine, earnest desire to enhance discourse,” said Jen En, Middle and Upper School Learning Associate. “We are equal as human beings, but in the school community, we have different roles,” Jen added.
“Students are already empowered. They have no idea why they call teachers by their first names. I think that it is too casual and it should be taught to everyone around C&C. Even in the admissions process, it should be talked about. As a parent, that would be a red flag. It was difficult at first. When I first introduced myself, I was used to being called by my last name,” said Trayshia Rogers, Xllls Co-teacher.
Families who visit C&C will not necessarily understand our C&C way of life and the casualness might turn them away from coming to the School. Three teachers in the Upper School say that they believe that the reason that students are allowed to call teachers by their first names should be explained openly so students understand the rationale behind the practice. Though many C&C teachers are used to it, not all of them agree with the practice now.
“I immediately realized that the Xllls were a sweet and respectful group. That made the transition smoother because they were sweet and respectful kids,” said Trayshia.
However, students have their own opinions. For students who have been going to C&C for most of their lives, it may be easier to understand the C&C way. For students that have recently joined out community, it may be more difficult to understand. Although we maintain our practices, this is mostly because of tradition since not all teachers fully understand why students are allowed to call them by their first names. For students though, they might understand it in their own way.
“I like calling teachers by their first names, although it may not prepare us for high school. Though it makes the classroom feel more like a community. I think that teachers who have been teaching at C&C for awhile understand it, but teachers first arriving probably do not understand it,” said Jack Sheehan, Xllls.
“C&C is an independent, small, and unique school. I think that calling teachers by their first names brings us to the same level and helps makes everyone closer. Though it may not prepare us for future schools and experiences, I believe that it works out well at our school,” said Nathalie Robayo, Xllls.
“I do not have an opinion on calling teachers by their first names although it does create more of a teacher-student relationship. But it seems like it makes teachers less of an authority figure while at school. I do not have experience calling teachers by their last names, so all I know is what I am used to,” said Gitana Savage, Xllls.
Overall, C&C is a different school than others and still uses Pratt’s practices in everyday school life. Though students may call teachers by their first names, this can be interpreted in multiple ways. In some cases, it can truly be disrespectful because calling an adult by their last name is respectful, so not calling them Mr., Ms., or Mrs. might seem disrespectful. But others may see it as a tradition we uphold to empower students in the way that Pratt originally intended.