The Sir/Ma’am Syndrome
Posted by Haris Gulzar on March 7, 2010
Throughout our schooling life, the colleges we attend, the universities we go to, we are taught to call out our teachers as Sir or Madam (or Ma’am in short). Or maybe not from our schools because I know my niece calls her teacher as aunty, but as far as I can remember, I have called my teachers as Sir or Madam, (or ‘teacher’ as well at some places, as in when the class would end and the teacher would leave the class, each child would stand and sing “THANK YOU TEACHER” :-P)…
This calling out as Sir or Ma’am is not because those teaching us have been rewarded with that title, we do it just to show respect, something that a teacher deserves from students. Also, we don’t do it because we’re forced to respect our teachers, we respect them because they are our teachers. I mean, a teacher is to be respected, this is as simple as that.
I say this because recently I participated in a discussion about teachers being called out as Sir or Ma’am, and if this was a good gesture or not. One of the professors who spoke AGAINST the topic, although had all her arguments as totally valid and well thought out, still failed to convince me enough. I’m not too aware of where the word Sir was first used and in what context, but supposedly this is a colonial baggage and it fosters a servile attitude. I say, it definitely would foster a servile attitude if servility lies in your mind, why and how would someone mix respect with servility? And that too, a student to his/her teacher?
The professor made a point that respect is not given by insisting on a title that your addressee does not want. That’s where I totally agree with her, but she also said that she doesn’t want to be called Ma’am because that would make her feel like a member of some august house to which she does not belong. Above all, she also thought the Sir/Ma’am salutations were nothing more than apple-polishing :-(. She even used words like “…you do consume your DIGNITY when you stoop to address your senior by Sir/Ma’am” (Actual words, copied from one of her memorandums)
Professor it will be, if that’s what she thinks respect is. We respect our teachers, so we should learn to address them the way they want us to, but bearing in mind that the students have been through the Sir/Ma’am state of mind throughout their schooling, is it ok to expect them to forego their (good or bad?) habit of addressing their teachers as Sir/Ma’am? Although a professor definitely deserves to be called a professor, but is there REALLY something wrong with Sir and/or Ma’am? Are we really consuming our DIGNITY by RESPECTING our teachers?