Part of the Process

Thoughts on becoming a teacher.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls


I recently read this article, by Scott D. Farver in Education Week about the importance of language in teaching. I was especially interested because he is writing about something that I frequently do myself. I know that the words we choose as teachers are important, but I have chosen to mostly ignore my usage of the word “guys”. I have often walked up to a group of mostly girls and said, “How are you guys doing?” or “What do you guys think?” (Now that I am paying closer attention, I realize just how frequently I say it.)

Several years ago, the child care center were I taught was undergoing National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)  accreditation. As part of this process, teachers were urged to pay closer attention to the language we used.  I remember how hard it was to break the habit of calling children by nicknames and endearments (the reasoning behind this was to ensure that children were being treated equally). Slowly I was able to wean all the buddys and sweethearts out of my daily speech. But, what I didn’t agree with was the use of guys. I felt like it was almost a cultural thing and I didn’t feel like it was detrimental to girls. So I have kept using it.

After I read the article in Education Week, I have come across other people talking about this issue. I know there are other ways we can address the students in our classrooms. I use names whenever possible, but often fall back on using “guys” when talking to a group. I’ve heard of teachers using a term related to the subject they are teaching (ie. “Mathemeticians” or “Artists”), but something about that doesn’t quite feel right for me. I also couldn’t envision myself saying “Boys and Girls” to address a group.

Is the use of “guys” inappropriate? Does it send the wrong message to the girls in the class? Does it make the classroom environment too informal and send a message that I am not taking the learning seriously?


10 thoughts on “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls

  1. I do not think that addressing a group of children as “guys” is any indication of how seriously you take teaching. I think that the way you address students should be a balance between respectful and accessible. I’ve heard a teacher pull off saying “boys and girls” because it was natural and comfortable for her whereas I saw another teacher say it and it came off a little condescendingly. You are doing the work of reflecting and questioning. I’d urge you to go with what feels right and makes children feel valued. You could even ask your class! Get their feedback on how it makes them feel!

  2. I am so glad that you wrote about this as I have also been catching myself addressing students as “guys”, and also wondering whether or not this was acceptable. A big reason why I think that it is fine to use is that I hear students themselves saying it to each other, girls to other girls, boys to girls, boys to boys, girls to boys…I struggle with finding fault in using the term when it is used so loosely by both students and adults. However, I can also see the controversy. I definitely do not think that using “guy” to address a group of students will make you seem unprofessional. However, I personally struggle with using the term when talking to girls due to the question that you posed about it sending the wrong message to them. However, as I already stated, hearing them use it themselves leads me to believe that it most likely goes unnoticed by the girls. That being said, I’m leaning more towards thinking that if I can find a different way to address students in general, it may be the safest way to go. I LOVE the idea that the person above suggested, asking the class could be a really great way of making students feel valued and give them something very meaningful to consider! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and questions!

  3. I actually think about this A LOT! Children seems to pick up on the slightest nuances. In fact, I’ve been wondering about the use of the word “kids” (you will typically hear me use children in almost every case). Personally, I think “guys” waters down personal images. Perhaps this is a regional perspective, but how would you feel About our professors starting class by saying, “Hey guys!” vs “hello, future educators!”? Doesn’t one of those greetings make you feel like sitting up and putting a smile on your face?

  4. I went to a women’s college where there was a lot of conversation about how much language we all use unconsciously just because we hear it all of the time that actually is subtlety demeaning. For instance we preferred our school be referenced as a women’s college, rather than a girls’ school. (One cheeky t-shirt sold in the campus book store said, “Mount Holyoke, not a girls’ school without men, a women’s college without boys). I grew up in Texas where we always said y’all (you all) which I loved because it was not gender specific. However, since I have moved away from Texas, y’all has gradually left my vocabulary and sounds strange to say other places. I’ve heard a lot of teachers of the primary grades refer to the students as “friends” but somehow that seems very informal to me. I really like using the grade level name, i.e. “First graders, line up at the door to quietly walk to Music now,” This seems particularly effective at the beginning of the year when students are excited to be in a new grade level. Maybe at the end of the year, I’ll have to say, “Almost second graders, line up . . . “

  5. Thanks for all the input and insights, everybody (notice how I didn’t say guys)! I like the idea of asking the class what they think, or what they would prefer to be addressed as. When I taught younger children, I often addressed them as friends, I don’t think that would go over well with sixth graders though.
    I do think I will find other ways to address the class, and move away from using guys. Although its probably going to be difficult at first, it just doesn’t see worth it if I am risking offending someone or sending girls subtle messages about their worth.
    Thanks again for helping me think more about this issue!

  6. I am really torn on this issue. I think that it is very important to be aware of the language that we use as well as the unintended messages we are sending with the words we choose. I also wonder though if sometimes we are picking words apart too much. I am unsure if I think the criticism of the use of “guys” is going too far or if it is warranted. I can see both sides of the argument. I personally think it would feel awkward for me to address the class as scholars for example. That just does not feel like “me”, but I do think that there may be other options that feel a bit less formal or forced.

  7. I too appreciate that you brought this up! I actually had to think about it more when addressing students in our September Experience. What it came down to was addressing the class, saying boys and girls or jóvenes (if the class was being taught in Spanish). I would have to say that definitely moving away from saying “guys” will be better for us in the future. In the first gradual release lesson, I caught myself saying guys more often than I would prefer saying it. The informality of the word is what gets me the most. I like the idea suggested by whencommasmeetdrama, Ask your class! What a great idea. Getting feedback is always a positive experience in my opinion in which you can glean so much.

  8. I have been calling the class by its grade level for right now. I like it because I feel like it’s accurate and it does not feel demeaning or overly specific. It is something I have been trying to be conscious of as well since I started teaching, as I, too, used to use “guys” a lot, but that was pounded out of me in the Navy! Now that I think about it, that is probably one of the reasons referring to the class by their grade appeals to me. It is a way of showing respect by assigning a semi-formal nickname. Maybe I’m just grasping at straws but I feel like at least I know my own lens a little better now! Thanks for the post!

  9. Thanks for blogging about this. I am also struggling and indecisive on how should I address students. Mostly I use ” …. graders” , or” … group “( if I am referring to a particular group )however I do want to change it up sometimes. I think it all depends upon which grade are you teaching. For example, I will feel more confident about calling high- school students ” scholars” than calling kindergartens by same. Kindergartens needs more informal environment than older students. So I do not think we can stick with one word or another regardless of which grade. I also agree with whencommasmeetdrama’s suggestion of just asking the class!

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