Monday, July 02, 2007

Ms. L.

I cannot remember a single time in my life when I was addressed by my full last name. People have written it or started to attempt it out loud, but I really don't remember anyone ever getting through it. Also, it's not even that I think of it as my mom's name because I can't really think of times when she was called her full last name for any longer than it took her to ask that people use her first name.

Today was my first day of student teaching. It was weird to introduce myself as Ms. something. It's not necessarily that this would be my first choice for what the kids should call me (although I don't actually know what I'd choose), but it's the culture of the school where I'm working.

I did tell the kids to call me "Ms. L." which honestly I'm not sure my feelings on. On the one hand, it will save the time and hassle of forcing them to learn my name, not to mention that it will save a lot of time simply because they'll use one syllable instead of six. However, every time someone sees my name and responds with "I'm not even gonna try to say that," I feel disrespected because they're not even willing to take the time to attempt my name. I know it doesn't look easy, and I know it's a really long name, but it's still my name and it deserves just as much respect as Smith or Jones. How would people with the easy names respond if I said I wasn't it wasn't worth my time to pronounce them? At the same time, most of the people who "won't even bother" are cashiers and telemarketers who only know me by credit card. So even when people do respectfully ask how to pronounce my name and then try practising it, I kind of don't want to bother with the teaching and would rather just get on with my errands. A perfect no-win situation. Fortunately I care about my students much more than I care about the cashiers at Trader Joe's (not that I don't love the TJ cashiers!), so I'm more than happy to take the time to talk to my students about my name, where it come from, how to pronounce it, etc.

I should probably get used to this issue now, because I'll be meeting new kids and other school community members on a regular basis starting last week. Or I should just solve this problem by getting married ASAP. Which would totally not raise any other problems in my life.


Peter said...

Solidarity! Yeah, I know the feeling. Maybe you could try out the name at a different school. That way you'd know how bad it was trying to train people.

Alternatively, you could try something like "Madam L." That seems inherently respectful.

Sigh. I'm always sad when I meet people from any asian country here in NZ who have adopted english names simply because nobody can pronounce their real names. Pronouncing people's real names correctly is a point of pride for me.

I work with a maori fellow who seemed genuinely grateful that I took the time to learn to correctly pronounce his name. It wasn't hard, and it did make for a connection at some level.

Roni said...

A tip from another teacher with a "freaky-looking" name: give them the option of calling you Ms. L only after they have tried to say your full name, and failed, three times. Give them a bit of syllable-by-syllable coaching to get them started. I guarantee that most students will fail more than 5 times, but will end up calling you by your full name. After all, they're closer to getting it right by that time than they are to getting it wrong. And by then they just look dumb in the eyes of their peers if they still can't get it so they'll make more of an effort.

This has worked for me every time. :)

Another option is throw the responsibility right back at them with a nicely but firmly worded, "I have to learn 125 of your names. The least you can do is learn the names of your 6 or 7 teachers." Even if that's not true in you particular case it gets them thinking about the situation from your persective. A gently-worded but straight forward "calling out" can earn a lot of respect from teenagers. You care about your name, and you care enough to stick to your guns. Students respect a teacher with a firm sense of identity more than those who don't, and that's worth going through the effort to pronounce a 6-syllable name for.

Regarding Peter's "Madam" point, I have a colleague who feels very offended by students' propensity here in NZ to call ever female teacher "Miss" (with no name following the title). She requires her students to call her Miss ______, or to use the title Madam if they prefer to not call her by her name. Many voluntarily use Madam _______ now. :)

SWE said...

Reading your post was like listening to my own inner dialogue at the start of student teaching. My mom was always "Mrs. S." and it seemed to work for her so I didn't pay it any more attention. I like Roni's approach much better, though.

Marriage, aside from the obvious life complications, is risky too. Look what happened to Roni's name. Or to mine. I went from unpronounceable to unpronounceable ~and~ unspellable. You could do worse, Ms. L. :)

Teana said...

my second grade teacher did what roni suggested, giving the kids a chance to learn your name before offering an alternative. granted, christensen isn't THAT hard to say but when you're in second grade it was damn near impossible.

then again, i've known you for years and i still can't consistently pronounce your name correctly. wow, i suck.

Linda said...
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Char said...

Since the rest of the family is weighing in on this issue....I might as well throw in my two cents. :-) Being the aforementioned "Mrs. S." for the better part of 31 teaching years wasn't too bad. The moniker came from other teachers, not students. For the first 10 years in "regular" education, the students all spoke the full name, but not my colleagues.

When I started teaching seriously emotionally disturbed students, I preferred that they not hear/see my name so they and their parents could not look it up in the phone book. In those days, it was more difficult to protect privacy with unlisted names/phone numbers. "Mrs. S." afforded a small bit of privacy and safety for home life and family.

Your Mom's words of wisdom are the best--you, not your name, are the source of your students' respect.

Best wishes as you begin this wonderful adventure of teaching!

Jaya said...
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Roni said...

Well put, Jaya.

Geetha said...

I got the best name comment I've ever gotten today: "That's your name? Do you know how to pronounce it?" No kid, sorry, my parents never told me.