I was going to try and thread some tweets about this topic, but I chickened out and came back to my blog. Tonight’s thoughts were inspired by this episode of Code Switch, which should be required listening for every teacher.
Tomorrow is the first day of school. I will meet the freshmen and new students, and Friday I will meet all of my students, I hope. When I start class, I introduce myself as follows:
“Hi! My name is Ms. Rowse. Not Mrs. Rowse. Mrs. Rowse is my mother, and while she is a perfectly kind and delightful woman, she is not your teacher. Ms. Rowse is.”
Why the emphasis on the title? Because my name with that title is part of my identity not only as a teacher but also as a single woman. To mistakenly use “Mrs.” is to assign me an identity I do not possess. I get a bit cheeky about it once I know my students; invariably a student will call me “Mrs. Rowse” and I’ll respond:
“She’s at home right now, but if you’d like to give her a call I’m sure she’d love to have a chat with you!”
My identity, my self-worth, my entire life is tied up in my name. I know the history of how Rowses came to the United States in the mid-1800s, I know the jobs they had and their migration patterns. I have been a Rowse for so long that I’m fairly certain if, by some biblical miracle, I ever marry, I will probably keep my last name as Rowse.
What does this have to do with meeting my students?
I need to learn their names. And I need to learn how those names are pronounced.
If it’s true that the relationships in a classroom can determine a student’s success, not taking the time to learn how my students’ names are pronounced immediately sets that relationship on edge. I can’t just know how to spell their names; I have to know how to say their names.
And for my students who go by nicknames, I need to learn those as well. My sister is Jennie. Always has been. It’s not her given name, though, and the quickest ways to annoy her are to 1) call her Jennifer and 2) spell her name Jenny. She’s neither of those. She’s Jennie. And for my transgender students, I will have a discreet conversation with them to determine what name I should use in class.
Take a listen to the podcast linked in the intro. Listen to the people who called in to the podcast and shared all the ways people have messed up their names. As teachers, our classrooms should be safe spaces for our students, and what student feels truly safe if his name is constantly mispronounced?
Learn names. It’s such an important part of our students’ lives and identities.