4 Names for “Teacher” in Spanish

This week I’ll be going into my third week in Spanish classrooms, but even in that short amount of time I’ve picked up on the words the kiddos use to get the attention of me or the teacher I’m helping.

US highway exit sign
No Name by Patrick Spence on Flickr

1) profe

Pronounced “PROE-fay” [ˈpɾo.fe], this is a shortening of the Spanish word profesor or profesora, which looks like our word “professor” but means both university professor and teacher in any grade.

2) seño

Pronounced “SAY-nyoe” [ˈse.ɲo], this is a shortening of the Spanish words señorita (“Miss”) or señora (“Mrs.”). Two syllables are always easier to say than three or four!

3) maestro

Pronounced “mah-AYS-troe” [maˈes.tɾo], this word (and the accompanying female form maestra) means “teacher,” plain and simple.

4) teacher

In Spain, they learn British English in schools, so they pronounce the word “teacher” as “TEE-chuh” [ˈti.tʃə]. Sometimes they do attempt the American pronunciation, but it comes out more like “TEE-chahrr” [ˈti.tʃar].

Bonus: my name

In Standard American English, my name “Trevor” is pronounced something like “TREH-vur” or “CHREH-vur,” depending on how you say the digraphs TR and DR in words like “train” and “drain.” But because Spanish kids often repeat my name as a mumbly “chrvr,” I usually tell them to use their word for “clover,” trébol, instead; this sounds like “TRAY-voel” [ˈtɾe.βol], complete with flipped Spanish R.

It struck me as kind of strange that Spanish students (at least, the elementary ones I’m working with) almost exclusively use these four terms to ask questions or say “hi!” instead of, you know, the teacher’s name (e.g., Señor García or Señora Álvarez). When I was in third grade, one of my classmates always referred to our teacher, Mrs. Copelin, as “teacher,” and thus gained the nickname “teacher.” I guess that’s just not as strange here.

If you’ve ever taught abroad, what did students call you in their language? And if you’re from elsewhere in the English-speaking world, is “teacher” a fully-acceptable substitute for the teacher’s name? Comment below!

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