Teaching With Joy

January 2003


What's Your Name?
by Joy Jones

     "The new kid's name is too hard to pronounce, so let's just call him Sam."

     "Her name is so long - why don't we shorten it?"

     Have you heard comments like these at your school? I'm sure no one intends to offend, but one of the basic ways of demonstrating respect is to address someone by his or her proper name, whether that person is a visiting dignitary from a foreign country or a first grader from a first generation family of immigrants. This student with the difficult name may already be facing a lot of unsettling changes as the new kid in a strange, new school or perhaps even a strange, new country. It's worthwhile to extend the simple human courtesy of calling that student by his or her name.

     To be sure, it may take more time and trouble to learn how to say a name from a foreign language and Americans are known for liking things to be quick and easy. But more and more American schools now find more and more of the globe within in their classroom walls. The school in Washington, D.C. where I taught last year has a population where one-third of the students speak English as a second language. According to the US Census, thirty-two million Americans speak a language other than English in the home.

     What that means is, in addition to Dick and Jane, you may find Julio, Abdul, Kadiatou, and Soyung listed on your class roster. By taking the lead in learning the proper way to pronounce a student's name, you take an important step towards bridging cultures and modeling acceptance of that student's unique heritage.

     And it's not just tolerance for the foreigner, either. A woman named Elizabeth told me of the struggle she had in school to correct teachers who insisted on shortening her name. "They always wanted to call me Beth or Betty or Liz. I had to tell them - 'My name is Elizabeth.' "

     We don't let our students hand in papers with misspelled words; in like fashion, we should take care to properly pronounce our students' names. Calling roll may be one of the first tasks of class, but showing respect is always the first lesson of the day.

Joy Jones is a third generation teacher, a playwright and the author of Between Black Women: Listening With the Third Ear, the acclaimed children’s book, Tambourine Moon, and Private Lessons: A Book of Meditations for Teachers.  You may view her web site at: www.JoyJonesOnline.com.



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