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.