Modesty in Teaching?

In many yeshivas, the boys call each other by their last names, to the point that sometimes they don’t even know their friends’ first names. There’s been many a time that I have answered the phone and been asked if the kid on the other end can talk to “ExLastName” – “which one? there are four?” -”The one in my class” :)

But that’s a boy thing, apparently. I recently heard the following. In a local boys’ school, for the higher grades, one of the secular studies teachers happens to be female. She has told the parents of the boys that she will NOT call their sons by the first names because it would be a breach of tzniut, modesty. Calling them by their last names only apparently adds a few degrees of separation – especially with 7th and 8th graders. Even when speaking with the parents she uses the last name for the boy.

When I go to a parent teacher evening, or speak to a teacher on the phone, if they referred to my kid by his last name only I would be offended. I cannot control what happens in the classroom, but when you are talking to ME about MY kid you had better know his given name.

Is this ridiculous? Or understandable? Your thoughts please.


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  1. rachelli says:

    very strange. she is a teacher, not a friend. I would not want to call my students by their last names. very cold and not caring. you want seperation,? don’t joke around or speak in the hallways with them.

  2. Rivki says:

    Calling the boys themselves by their last names is somewhat understandable to me, though it’s not something I would do. However, when speaking to the parents, I think it’s unnecessary, and potentially even rude. If the point of using the last name is to create an additional barrier between the boys and herself, what is the use of doing this when the boy is not present? Perhaps she’s nervous that if she ever refers to the boys by their first names, she will slip up?

    Sounds like excess to me. And Lol on the phone calls to your house where the boys don’t know their friends’ name! smh.

  3. Daphne says:

    Dislike. When I was in grade 8, we had a male teacher, a rabbi, who taught us Chumash. He made up nicknames for us based on our first or last names and that’s how he referred to us for the duration of the year. (for reasons too long to lis…t here, I’m sure he hated every second he taught girls). I always thought he was “just” a jerk, but maybe this was his way of maintaining a level of tzniut and keeping distance from the girls in our class. I don’t remember a thing I learned in his class, but I’m pretty sure I never learned the lesson “derekh eretz kadma laTorah” from him. Civility needs to be taught in the classroom. If teachers aren’t going to call students by their first names, then at the very least, the last name should be preceded by a Mr. Or Ms. Classrooms are not sports teams where people are identified by a number/their last name on the back of their jerseys.

    • brassnet says:

      There is no call for teachers to call students by nicknames under any circumstances. One of the jobs of teachers is to educate children both in classroom topics and in respect. Using a form of address that is appropriate for a peer is not usually appropriate for an authority figure. There needs to be a certain distance between educators and students – calling the teacher Mr. Smith is one layer. Calling the student Mr. Stein is another. Calling either one “Pizza face” is out of bounds!

  4. brassnet says:

    I see no problem with teachers calling their students by their last names – so long as it’s prefaced by Mr. or Miss. I think that this show of respect for the students might help the students learn to show respect for others. However when adults are talking to one another about the students (be it teachers among themselves or teachers with parents) it is completely unnecessary and very confusing. Just something that can be taken way to far…

  5. Hadass says:

    That is a boy thing, true, but I find the teacher’s attitude a bit odd. Also, I’m curious as to her plan if she finds herself teaching twins or cousins with the same last name (lots of those in my kids’ school). Will she start numbering them? LOL. I’m reminded of those old-fashioned British schools!

  6. Mark says:

    Like many things claimed under the huge tznius tent in today’s age, this is also ridiculous.

  7. batya from NJ says:

    None of my son’s female teachers have ever called him by his last name or Mr. lastname so this is odd to me but then again, my son’s elementary & HS Yeshivas were more ‘modern’ than the traditional Yeshivish ones that your sons attend/have attended.

  8. Have your boys had other female teachers in the upper grades at this particular yeshiva? How did they relate to the students? If it is related to school tzniut policy, then I’d take it with a grain of salt. If not, then I’d lean toward disliking the teacher’s attitude. But I do empathize with her desire to maintain distance – particularly if she’s single or younger or newer to teaching. I can see this as an effort to try to minimize the risk of any potential for gossip about her behavior. But I agree, when she’s speaking to Mum, she needs to use the boys’ given names. It’s more respectful.

  9. D says:

    Are you sure this is accurate? Most “Yeshivish” schools especially those with teachers such as the one in question won’t have female teachers above 5th grade. Something seems off.

    • HSaboMilner says:

      My 8th grade son has female teachers too. He had female teachers in 7th as well. Seems to be common in the Monsey schools, which is somewhat surprising to me.

      • Mark says:

        It’s probably a pragmatic decision on the part of the schools – they probably simply cannot find enough qualified male teachers at wages that can fit into their budgets.

  10. I totally agree with Mark.
    As a teacher I can tell you there are lots of other ways ti create and maintain distance with students.

  11. M says:

    How does it work if she has multiple students named, I don’t know, Katz in her class? Do they become Katz 1 and Katz 2? Some other distinguisher?

    I wouldn’t mind it if it’s being prefaced with Mr. ExLastName, could you please answer the question? but if she’s just saying ExLastName, could you answer the question? it’s a little disrespectful. I don’t really understand the logic in framing it as a tznius issue, but then what do I know?

  12. fille says:

    Problem is you do not have a courtesey formula in English.

    In French, teachers often use “first names” & “vous” from grade 6 onwards… This marks some distance and some respect for the students (12-year-olds are usually proud that people refer to them as they would to adults). At the same time, it avoids the over-distant Mr. X or M(r)s. Y, which is, in my view, the only solution left for you english-speakers…
    Some french teachers also use just last names & vous… I think just the last name is OK from a teacher, but not from a classmate. Except, of course when every single child in the class has the same first name, like Yoel (birthyear 1979/80) or Shlomo (born 1995)…

  13. robert says:

    tzniut is subject to contemporary customs. nowadays, it is perfectly acceptable for teachers to address their students by their first names. It is not indicative of any special relationship b/w the two.

    If the teacher wants to be so strict in matters of tzniut as to not conform to the contemporary practices, then perhaps she should follow what is written in the misneh torah of the Rambam, and refrain from teaching at all.

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