What we Call Students Matters

What you call your students is what you want to elicit in them. That's why I think certain terms should be avoided, and others added to your teacher vocabulary. Consider these options.

By Kelly Richmond, Education Trainer/Coach | Sep 05, 2022
What We Call Children 01

This post is by Kelly Richmond, Curriculum Support Coordinator at Momentous Institute.


I love this quote by Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

This is so important when we’re talking about school and helping children grow into the best, brightest, kindest changemakers they can be. What you call your students is what you want to elicit in them. This is why I encourage teachers to use phrases like:

“Okay, scientists – let’s get started!”

“Alright, kind fourth graders. Here we go.”

“Hello changemakers, can I have your attention?”

Of course, the most important thing we can call our students is by their name. Teachers must learn their students’ names and how to say them correctly without shortening them (unless by a student’s request.) But outside of this, teachers often speak to the whole class and use terms such as:

“Here we go, boys and girls.”

“Friends, let’s line up!”

“Okay, little ones.”

These are all well-intentioned phrases, and I definitely used to say “friends” a lot when I was a classroom teacher! But when you learn better, you do better. Now I know that there are reasons not to use these phrases.

Saying “boys and girls” can inadvertently create a gendered environment (read more about the research here) and is not inclusive of children who don’t identify in one of those two categories.  Calling students “friends” is inauthentic and confusing – kids and teachers aren’t actually friends. Everyone should be friendly, of course, but not everyone has to be friends. “Little ones”, “babies”, “children”, etc. can all come across as demeaning and condescending. Even if the students are very young, they want to be treated with respect, not feel belittled or talked down to.

We all bring our own lived experience into the classroom, and we all have different ways of connecting with children. That said, I encourage teachers to think about how we can leverage respect and skill building with students in a different way by being intentional about what we call them.

After all, the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. If we call them kind, changemakers, scientists or explorers… that’s how they’ll see themselves.