28th March, 2013

Miss, Ma’am, and cultural differences:

This struck me last week:  There is a definite difference in how my students of color address me and how my white students address me.

Fewer than 20% of our school is non-white.  We’re a rural city in Southern Indiana in which 40% (reported) of the corporation qualifies for free/reduced lunch.  I’m white.  I’m almost 30.  I’m from here.

It suddenly struck me my students of color refer to me as “miss” and “ma’am” far more than my white students.  White students use “Miss [Last Name]” or simply “Miss S” to get my attention.  

My students of color (Burmese, Hispanic, Black, and mixed race), use the same addresses, but will also preface, “Ma’am, can you…?” What they do that my white students never do is “Yes, Miss/Ma’am,” or “Thank you Miss/Ma’am.”  

Anytime a white student has used “ma’am” with me, they’ve done it with sass and no sincerity. (Which I take in stride, like all things.)

Can anyone shed some light on if I have discovered/noticed a cultural pattern here?  Is this address of an older woman taught in their homes/culture that is not taught in white homes/culture?

ETA: I’m not *expecting* to be addressed in any way other than “Miss [last name].”  


  1. g1ll1an answered: I met a teacher who required that all of her students address her as “ma’am.” She refused to acknowledge them if they didn’t.
  2. poignantperfume answered: I’m an ed student/hispanic person and i can say people of color r instilled with more respect for elders culturally. ask if u want more info
  3. imaginationbeatsimitation answered: The colored children look at you as a superior so they address as a superior being. The white children see you as an equal and address you as
  4. kateann6 reblogged this from rosecityqueen and added:
    sensei-ni-naritai: girlwithalessonplan: This struck me last week: There is a definite difference in how my students of...
  5. rosecityqueen reblogged this from sensei-ni-naritai and added:
    Super interesting. My experience is pretty similar to sensei-ni-naritai’s. I’m not from Hawaii, but teaching at Punahou...
  6. mixleplick reblogged this from girlwithalessonplan
  7. willworkforcollege reblogged this from girlwithalessonplan
  8. asteptowardhope reblogged this from girlwithalessonplan and added:
    I teach at a Title I elementary school in central FL. My students call me “ma’am” or “miss” and never with sass or...
  9. no-soy-jason-bourne said: I’m from the south and it’s kind of weird to hear that it’s NOT the norm to say “yes ma’am.” When we were kids we got in trouble if we answered an adult with “yeah” or just “yes.” Maybe it’s a similar upbringing situation
  10. mydelectabledarlooney said: This is something that was taught to me at home. I dont only address authority figures that way but my students, too. Its a sign of respect, to show you that I heard you, that im actively listening.
  11. midwestmumblings said: I teach in an urban school and have noticed the same thing. And, there’s definitely a difference between “Miss” and “Miiiiissss” and even “Miss!” Sometimes it bugs me, and sometimes it doesn’t.
  12. wonderfulslumber answered: I student taught in an urban school; my students of color called me miss. the teachers would get offended but i saw it as a sign of respect
  13. andre-lois said: Hi there. I was cut off with my answer. I am also a teacher and here in the Philippines with teach our students to call women who are older than them as “Miss” or “Missus” and and for the men “Mr. or Sir”. I could say that it is culturally ingrained.
  14. andre-lois answered: My only experience in teaching other culture was my 3 weeks stint in Thailand and yes, they address you as “Miss (with your family name)”
  15. teachinginthemiddle answered: theres no difference in my classes of the ma’ams towards me.
  16. amateuradulthood answered: Living in the South with black parents I was taught it was disrespectful not to. I was quickly corrected or disciplined if I didn’t
  17. street44 said: I just did not know that it was supposed to be used.
  18. katy-mylady answered: Never was called ma’am until I moved to the South. I find it weird to be 23 and called ma’am. In urban Rochester, I was just ‘miss.’
  19. gigifoundatardis reblogged this from girlwithalessonplan and added:
    I expect my students to address me as Ms. [Surname] or Ma’am. Where I live, it is disrespectful for a child to answer...
  20. je-mappelle-catlady answered: I’m from Arkansas and I’ve been to 6 schools. In each school I’ve been to, EVERYONE said “Miss” and “Ma’am.” I was taught it was rude not to.
  21. akafirstclassroom said: I moved from PA to VA, and noticed many students in VA call me ma’am, no matter what race. In PA I was more likely to get called miss.
  22. candy13cane reblogged this from serpentsrose
  23. allicat337 answered: people of color have been taught that it is polite to address someone older than them with ma’m or miss while white people are brought up dif
  24. knight-to-h3 answered: I’m from MS. Everyone says ma’am, never sassily. However, black students may have a sarcastic/exasperated use of the word Miss
  25. sensei-ni-naritai reblogged this from girlwithalessonplan and added:
    I thought this was really interesting. I didn’t realize how widespread this was. When I was in the classroom, I was...
  26. caspiancircle answered: I went to a predominantly white school - and I mean, 95% white - and kids only used ‘miss’ or ‘sir’ to be rude or sarcastic
  27. temporaryjanedoe answered: I’m from Mississippi, it’s a southern thing. It’s also a “I grew up with Granny & Mamaw around a lot” thing. I do it, my students do, too.
  28. brighteyedbarefoot reblogged this from girlwithalessonplan and added:
    I am in a roughly 98% black school district that is also roughly 98% free/reduced lunches. All my kids address (or know...
  29. serpentsrose reblogged this from girlwithalessonplan
  30. jazzylia said: Interesting. A lot of my childhood white friends would refer to adults by their first names. My mom would of killed me at the thought. In church as a child “respect your elders” was something I heard weekly. Perhaps there is some sort of divide.
  31. grayer answered: I don’t get “Sir” however I always use Ma’am or Sir with others
  32. jazzylia answered: I was always taught to address adults as miss / ma’am / sir and to always use please and thank u with those. Many of my white friends did not
  33. sahlineelnagrom answered: I teach at a predominately Black and Hispanic high school and most of my students refer to me as “Ma’am” or “Miss” as well.
  34. msleahqueenhbic answered: Same here, New Yorker. Their parents also call me ma’am or miss as well even though we’re close in age!
  35. vwalker said: I have the same difference between my white/nonwhite students, and I live way north!
  36. classicsnerd1994 answered: Well I’m Southern so I say Ma’am.
  37. from-tutor-to-teacher reblogged this from girlwithalessonplan and added:
    I have actually seen this more as a cultural difference between regions of the U.S. . At my school, most students call...
  38. 15041912 said: 25.media.tumblr.com/9c2…