The first time I was called, “Miss” was on the first day of my second year of teaching. A fascinating young man slouched into the front seat I had indiscriminately assigned him hours before. It was different, it wasn’t my name and I didn’t recognize it for the slang it was. He was different too.
We were a proud school, and we strove to impress that pride on our students through a fairly rigid dress code. He tested that code with a particular sloppy sweatshirt with bright patterned graphics. It sounds like it fit the standard, but it was certainly pushing things. He might have insisted that he had no affiliation to a gang, but he held himself like he wanted to be part of one. It took us over half the school year to show him he might instead find the acceptance, belonging, and friendships he needed among our greatest students. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, he shed some of the gangsta image. And then he moved. It nearly broke my heart. I don’t know what happened to him, but I wish I could tell him how he prepared me to accept the call of “Miss.”
What I didn’t know then, however, is that most of the time it begins with, “Hey!” Sometimes that tells me what’s coming, but usually the question, comment, I’ve-got-to-tell-you-something-NOW, I’m-confused-but-I’m-NOT-stupid intonation comes in the “Miss.”
It may not be as respectful as “Ma’am,” or my name for that matter; nor is it as insulting as “Girl” (which one tried–once); but it comes with the territory.