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Students, teachers lean away from Mrs.

The+use+of+Ms.+has+become+more+common%2C+even+with+teachers+who+are+married.+
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Students, teachers lean away from Mrs.

The use of Ms. has become more common, even with teachers who are married.

The use of Ms. has become more common, even with teachers who are married.

Melanie Mnirajd

The use of Ms. has become more common, even with teachers who are married.

Melanie Mnirajd

Melanie Mnirajd

The use of Ms. has become more common, even with teachers who are married.

By Megan Neal, Piper High School in Kansas City, Kansas

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Students learn to address their teachers by a specific title and when to use each one in elementary school. However, the use of honorifics in schools has changed. Many teachers and students find themselves only using the title Ms., even when they fit into the category for a different title.

While men only have one honorific, women have three that are based off of marital status. According to Grammarly.com, Miss. should be used when address an unmarried women, while Mrs. is reserved for married and widowed women. Ms., however, can be used when the marital status of a woman is unknown. Using Ms. became more popular in the 1970’s, just 50 years after women were given the right to vote, being an equivalent to the title of Mr. that is used for married and unmarried men.

Theater teacher Tori Deneault prefers her student’s to call her Ms., even though she is married.

“Essentially, one of the first things you know about someone is their name. I feel that who I am is not defined by my marital status, and that someone should know me before knowing rather or not I am married,” Deneault said. “My husband doesn’t particularly agree with this choice, but he understands that my personhood is more important to others than legal relationships that I have entered.”   

For junior Caroline Zimmerman, sticking to one title can save her from addressing her teachers wrong.

“If I don’t know if the teacher is married, it’s easier to stick with one title for all of them,” Zimmerman said. “It also just sounds better to me contextually.”

Deneault agreed, and said in some cases, it is better to stick with a generic term than assume, along with the feminist movement of keeping personal lives more private.

“Societally, it can no longer be assumed that adult women are all married,”  Deneault said. “Also, they [students] don’t want to awkwardly get it wrong. Teachers are moving to it because of either the feminist argument I’ve mentioned, because there is an increased focus on keeping our personal lives out of the classroom, and because it’s just easier for students.  Also, sometimes teachers’ lives change (divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, etc) and those things aren’t really students’ business. Using Ms. generically avoids complications that might otherwise lead to potentially career-limiting issues.”

Unlike Deneault, english teacher Tiffany Scheffler does not have a preference as to what students refer to her as.

“Sometimes people call me Ms. Sweany or Ms. Schmeltzer and I don’t even mind,” Scheffler said. “Honestly, I think sometimes we’re just not annunciating, so it all sounds like Ms. when we say it out loud.”  

Although Scheffler doesn’t have a personal preference, she believes students should always use what the teacher prefers.

“I don’t think we should attempt to adopt one as many people view them as a marker of respect or an indication of their age or experience and wish to be referred to as Miss or Mrs.,” Scheffler said. “I think if a student is in doubt, they should use Ms. for their female teachers. It gets the job done. However, I feel like we should always defer to what someone prefers to be called.”

For Scheffler, the way students refer to teachers is all about the respect and relationship they have with each other.

“Some students call me “Scheffler” without any prefix at all,” she said. “Some staff members are referred to simply as ‘coach’ or some abbreviation or nickname that develops over the course of a team or activity, and I don’t think it’s disrespectful to refer to them in that way as long as they’ve established that name/title within the group.”

However, Zimmerman thinks the use of such titles has more meaning, equality within genders.

“Gender roles have ultimately changed in American society,” Zimmerman said.  “I do believe we should eliminate the different forms of Ms. It doesn’t seem fair that men only have one title while women are expected to have multiple based on their marital status. We don’t live in the 1800s anymore- women can get married when they want, how they want, and to whomever they want. We shouldn’t be expected to use all these different titles in a society that no longer cares if we’re married or not. We need one title for women to show that we are empowered, and have just as many rights as men do.”

Similarly, Deneault hopes in the future a gender-neutral title will be made.

“I would love it if our society didn’t use gender-based prefixes.  The English language doesn’t currently have one of those though, so that becomes difficult,” she said. “I think the need for such a term is certainly already here, but so many of these issues require social acceptance before they become codified.  Language requires communal usage to have meaning. And that takes longer than we’d sometimes like. An in-between step would certainly be moving to a scenario where only Ms. is used, and that is something that we can individually control.”

This story was originally published on KC Piper News on April 16, 2019.

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