8. Mr. Blue

When I graduated from college and landed a job as a teacher, I was given a new name: Mr. Blue. I didn’t like the name. To me, it wasn’t a symbol of respect. As far as I knew, plenty of people respected me, and none, so far, had called me “Mr. Blue.” Furthermore, I was a young whippersnapper from the local college, and some of the high school “children” I was going to teach seemed older than I was. I wore a three-piece suit every day so people would know I was a teacher. As far as many of them knew, college was a place where you burned draft cards, organized marches, and said rude things about sacred American institutions. “Mr. Blue” or not, I didn’t get as much respect as I would have liked.
At first, when I had student teachers, I encouraged them to feel free to use their given names. But I soon realized that if I was going to be Mr. Blue, then someone named Cathy or Dan would be seen differently by the children. A school is a culture, and has its own cultural norms. In one way, it was easier to be the children’s ally if, like them, you were called by your first name. In another way, it was harder to get their attention, compliance, and (yes) respect if the one you were supposed to respect didn’t seem to have a first name. So I encouraged student teachers to use their last names. Like it or not, it made a difference.
Now, as a volunteer, I have the chance to get my real name back. I’ve worked mostly with four classes – three first grades and one third grade. In the Leeds school, the first graders call me “Bob” and the third graders call me “Mr. Blue.” (I surprised myself by introducing myself to the third graders as “Mr. Blue.” I think I missed the children of Wellesley, and thought this would help. It did.) At the Fort River School, Irene’s class calls me Bob and Ms. Thrasher’s class calls me “Mr. Blue.” It’s an open space school, and some of the classes are separated only by cabinets. Children have several reasons to pass through a class other than their own, so Mr. Blue can be greeted as Bob, and vice versa.
There are teachers who have strong convictions about the name question. Some feel that it’s hypocritical, elitist, undemocratic to insist that children use “Mr.,” “Ms.,” “Miss,” or “Mrs.” Others feel, equally strongly, that a large portion of respect is bound up with symbols, and the title is an important symbol. They will much more easily accept a diagnosis from a physician named Dr. Glasser than from Ruth, even if Dr. Ruth Glasser is intrinsically one person.
Some issues inspire me to take a stand. Not this one. I know that the only people I really don’t want to call me “Bob” are salespeople who are trying to sell me something I may not want to buy. My daughters call me “Daddy,” even now that they’re adults, and it’s all right. Children in Wellesley call me “Mr. Blue.” Some of you adults call me “Mr. Blue,” either because I was your teacher, or because I was your child’s teacher. That’s all right, too. But if you are talking to the real me, not one of the roles I’ve played, whether you know it or not, you’re talking to Bob.
-Mr. Bob Blue

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