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Try to Pronounce Students' Names

Pronounce Students' Names My Name My IdentityYou’ll never be able to pronounce my name,” the student from Uzbekistan said. Little did she know I had lived in Kazakhstan for several years and the two languages are very similar. Nor was her name really all that difficult, just long.

“Is is Zulfizar Abduraimova (not her real name)?”I pronounced her name fairly well, I think.

She was floored. It was a small thing, pronouncing a student’s name correctly. It had extra impact because you don’t see a lot of Uzbek students in the US and it’s not a popular destination for Americans, either. Of all the English classes in the world, what were the odds she’d walk into mine? But that little trick bought me a lot of good will and rapport with her.

Contrast that with an all-too common scene in my experience, fictionalized below:

“You’ll never be able to pronounce my name. Call me Zul,” says the student.

“Oh thank God,” thinks the teacher. Then later in the staff room, “Zul? Who told her that was a good English name?”

“Have you met Shih-Wei? But I told him to call him Stephen.”

“Oh, really? I thought Shih-Wei was Rose’s real name. Can you believe there’s a guy who calls himself Rose?”

The chain reaction of disrespcct

See what can happen when students adopt a nickname because they feel their name doesn’t fit English or their teacher doesn’t care enough to try to pronounce their name? Students end up choosing nicknames that are still mocked. The only thing accomplished is that the student learns that their name is indeed not a proper English name. How much easier it would be to learn their names, rather than give them nicknames?

Now I’m not talking about nicknames the student has chosen for fun. Or that their friends have given them. I’m talking about nicknames or shortenings of their name students take on specifically because they feel their name is “too hard” for English or “sounds funny to native speakers”. I’m talking about names given to hide or distort who they are.

Names are closely linked to identity. Respecting a students’s identity is the easiest way to build rapport. That’s why I applaud the My Name, My Identity Campaign. The campaign encourages teachers to learn to pronounce students’ names correctly. There are some great resources  to help you, including a great guide on International Naming Conventions and  four websites to help you hear names and see them spelled phonetically.

What if You Can’t Pronounce Students’ Names?

I will add one caveat, which is that you may not be able to pronounce your student’s name as perfectly as a native speaker. We tell our students that a native accent is not a realistic goal for most language learners. They shouldn’t expect us to have perfect pronunciation, either. However, there’s no excuse not to make an effort. They will be able to tell if you are trying or not. And it really will go a long way to building rapport with your students.

Cross-posted on Alphabet Publishing’s blog

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Share Your Failure Story: 30 Goals 7

Even when your class is truly disruptive and disobedient, there are still things you can do to make it better. Student failure is also teacher failure.

Seriously, this could have been my class

The Class from Hell

I just shared a post about the class from hell on my publisher’s blog. As I wrote about them there:

I’ve never forgotten the 9th graders from Lyceum 33 in Astana. It was the worst class I’ve ever have. One student came to class early, stuck his head out the window, and started to smoke! While I was standing there. Another student simply refused to hand me back his test. I said I’d give him a 0 if he didn’t give it back to me and he said, “F*** your 0, who cares?” and walked out of class. I knew it wasn’t all my fault, because I saw kids fighting in the halls. One 14-year-old told me he knew how to drive. He stole his father’s car all the time and drove around with his buddies, getting drunk in the car.

These were the biggest incidents, but every day was a struggle. If I told them to get out their book, there were audible sighs and rolling of eyes. If I asked if anyone had questions about the task, I’d get students asking what basketball team I liked and if it was true that all Americans were fat. We all have students who pack up their bags 5 minutes before class ends, but I had kids packing up their bags and walking out. And the cellphones, oh, the cellphones…..They texted each other in class!

This sounds pretty clearly like a story of student failure, right?

And yet, I firmly believe student failure is also teacher failure. There’s always something we can do.

Sit Down and Shut Up?

The other teachers weren’t getting eaten alive. When I studied what they were doing versus what I was doing, I noticed a lot of behavior that I didn’t like. In this culture, teachers were unassailable authority figures who yelled, screamed, and insulted the students. They never admitted to any wrong doing, and many classes involved students sitting quietly, copying from the board or a textbook, or taking notes of a lecture–ok for college, but in high school, not so much. Especially as they had specifically hired me to teach English speaking! Clearly, the sit down and shut up approach was not going to work.

Keep Them Engaged

Finally, I realized that there was one thing my fellow teachers were doing in class that I did want to emulate. They were keeping the students busy. Now I didn’t want to give my students meaningless busy work. However, by reflecting on my routine and finding the places where students weren’t doing anything, I managed to take a lot of dead time out of my lesson. When the students didn’t have time to be bad, they were actually pretty good.

For me, and I’d imagine for most teachers, the times when students can be most idle are:

  1.  Taking attendance
  2. Writing objectives
  3. When you’re giving directions
  4. When they finish early. And that goes for activities as well as quizzes and tests.
  5. When handing back work

By tweaking my routines, preparing an early-finisher/Do-now file, and doing a lot of housekeeping activities on a blog or webpage instead of in class, I was able to kill a lot of dead-time. Suddenly my class from hell turned into the mildly disruptive class of pretty typical teenagers. Or as one of the bigger, more resistant kids put it to me once:

“I like to make teachers annoyed. It’s a fun game. But at least you try to teach us things. I appreciate that. Please don’t take it personally that I get on your nerves!”

 

How about you? How do you keep your class moving and dead time to a minimum?

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