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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, August 11, 2018 1:00 am

Teachers know what's in a name for incoming students

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Educator Bob Schantz once knew a student named Jain – a first name many pronounced as Jane when it actually sounded like Jan.

She lived with the mistake, the Canterbury High School faculty member said, noting some mispronunciations unintentionally follow students throughout their schooling.

Learning students' names is a task Allen County teachers will soon face. The four public school districts, along with other schools, begin the 2018-19 academic year next week.

Fort Wayne Community Schools, which had nearly 30,000 students last school year, has students from at least 60 countries, said Emily Schwartz Keirns, English-language learner manager. More than 70 languages are represented.

“We definitely have a lot of types of names and naming conventions among our students,” Schwartz Keirns said.

Educators don't dismiss the importance of getting students' names right.

“For me, it's just a way to show kids that you care about them,” said Fraser Coffeen, Canterbury Middle School director.

Schwartz Keirns agreed. Asking students how to say their name or what they prefer to be called can mean a lot.

“I think it shows an interest in them personally and an interest in their culture when we ask,” she said.

Teachers can formally pledge to pronounce students' names correctly through the “My Name, My Identity” campaign.

The movement originated in California, but it has spread nationwide and globally, an online map of supporters shows. More than 6,500 people have taken the pledge, including six in Fort Wayne and one in Warsaw as of Thursday.

Through this effort, the website states, teachers “can foster a sense of belonging and build positive relationships in the classroom, which are crucial for healthy social, psychological and educational outcomes.”

Schantz, who is returning to teaching full time this fall, strove to correctly pronounce students' names at graduation in his role as Canterbury High School director. He listened to recordings of students' names, used phonetic notes and practiced alongside students to get names right, he said.

Coffeen tells students he has a tricky name to pronounce, so it's important to him to correctly say theirs.

He wants to empower them to speak up because it can be easy for them to misinterpret a botched name as a sign teachers don't care, he said.

Along with classroom efforts, Concordia Lutheran High School staff make a point of getting to know students through small devotional groups, spokeswoman Ashley Wiehe said. Students with tricky names usually understand if teachers need extra help.

Those in Northwest Allen County Schools generally use a lighthearted approach with students when learning difficult names, spokeswoman Lizette Downey said in an email.

“We trust our teachers to be sensitive and take the time to ask the student to say his/her name and to learn it,” she said.

asloboda@jg.net