The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Titles distinguish the mediocre, embarrass the superior, and are disgraced by the inferior."...  ... George Bernard Shaw.

Commentary of the Day - March 25, 2005:  Calling a Cigar a Cigar.  Guest commentary by Felice Prager (Senior Executive Director of Flotsam and Jetsam).

A teacher will still be called a teacher and a principal will still be called a principal.  However, the job titles of several employees in the Scottsdale Unified School District (Scottsdale, Arizona) have changed.  So says the article in the February 23, 2005 edition of The Arizona Republic1.  The district will no longer refer to the person at the front desk as a receptionist.  That person will be called the Director of First Impressions.  Bus drivers will be called Transporters of Learners.  The Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education will now have a 10-word title:  Executive Director for Elementary Schools and Excelling Teaching and Learning.  These new titles are mostly at the upper management level and were created by Dr. John M. Baracy who has been Scottsdale's Superintendent of Schools since 2004.  (Interesting aside: The Scottsdale Unified School District has had nineteen superintendents since 1922. There have been six the last ten years.  But who's counting?)

Dr. Baracy has said that the change in job titles is "to make a statement about what we value in the district.  We value learning."  Baracy has pledged to back up the new titles with better customer service.  The Scottsdale School Board recently approved of these changes, and one school board member said, "I think it's more a positive affirmation than hyperbole."

According to The Arizona Republic, Liz Ryan, who spent 20 years in human resources and founded WorldWIT, a Website devoted to women's workplace issues, calls the new titles "trivial, sad and misguided."  She continued to say, "When you are talking about education, you better be kind of serious, and I don't mean stodgy, but grown-up.  Director of First Impressions makes me want to gag."

I had a similar reaction.

According to Ms. Ryan the word director "implies there is something wrong with being a receptionist.  Director also implies that the receptionist supervises many other employees, which isn't usually the case.  This may make it hard for the Director of First Impressions to find another receptionist job, she said, because people will get confused by the title on her resume."

Another perspective was offered by The Arizona Republic.  "Joyce Gioia, a Greensboro, N.C., business expert who focuses on workplace trends likes the new titles.  'Which would you rather be, a receptionist or a Director of First Impressions?' she said. 'The new title helps the person focus on what the job is really about, she said, which is creating a good first impression.'"

With that logic, we can all change our titles to feel better about our chosen professions.  I don't want to be called Mom anymore.  You will kindly refer to me as the Senior Executive Director of All Things Remarkable, Astonishing, and Brilliant.

I started thinking about the days when garbage men were garbage men and housewives were housewives.  My mind drifted to thoughts of Roseanne (Barr) -- the Domestic Goddess.  I thought of my ex-boss who referred to me as a multisensory educational therapist and internationally published author when talking to potential clients.  I thought about all of the euphemistic terms that have buried themselves deeply into our everyday conversations -- terms like creative benefit packages and ethnically diverse environments.  I thought of terms like previously owned vehicle, handyman specials, and family jewels (which have no value at Tiffany's.)  Then I started remembering my 2000-plus days as a public school teacher (give or take a few mental health days) when I, too, was an expert at the Euphemism Game:

"Esmerelda needs to learn some time management skills" REALLY meant "She spends a half hour in the bathroom doing who-knows-what each day after lunch and is always late for my class."

"Wilbur has difficulty with spatial relationships" REALLY meant "When he comes down from Mars and starts to pay attention in class, maybe he'll pass a test for a change."

"Filomena loves to explore new areas" REALLY meant "She is forever searching for things lodged within her nose."

On the news last night, they interviewed average citizens about the changes in the Scottsdale Unified School District's job titles. T he reactions ranged from "change is always good" to "don't they have more important things to be working on?"  One reporter, who, at the end of her two minute story, jokingly referred to herself as an Information Specialist, said that this change would be saving the school district $100,000, but she never said where the savings were coming from.  My first impression was that the cost of new business cards and door plaques, plus the cost of printing up new employee rosters for the hundreds of employees in the Scottsdale Unified School District would cost them money, not save them money.  I then began to think of the time and money spent on professionals who sat around and came up with the new titles.  Still, I had no answer to how the district would save $100,000 by changing job titles.

I looked on the Internet for information, but I didn't find what I wanted to know.   Perhaps it's too new to be on the Internet.  Perhaps the Senior Executive Director of Letting People Know What They Need to Know When They Need to Know It was taking one of her mental health days or maybe she can't find the Superintendent of Schools to discuss it because she cannot find the receptionist.
1"For Scottsdale schools, the receptionist is now 'Director of First Impressions'"  by Anne Ryman. The Arizona Republic, February 23, 2005.

©2005 Felice Prager
Felice Prager is a freelance writer and former English teacher from Arizona.  She publishes the Write Funny pages.

The IP comments: The IP once was introduced to a police sergeant who liked to refer to himself as a "sanitation engineer".  And recently the IP received a note from a former neighbor and retired school teacher who noted that his school district had changed the definition of its grades.  An F no longer was defined as "failing".  It had become "fifth highest grade attainable".

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