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From the Principal
Wednesday, October 7, 2015 5:00 PM

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FROM THE PRINCIPAL….

Yesterday I received a voicemail from a college student that is studying to be a teacher and is working on a research project about the pros and cons of students calling teachers by their first name. For the last ten years, I have led schools that use first names.  Consequently, the practice was natural and normal for me when I came to Barton and was not something I gave much thought. In fact, when I first came to our building and saw our 10 Reasons To Love Barton poster hung around the school and noted that #1 on the list is, "teachers by first names" I saw it as sign that Barton would be a place that would be a match for me.

After getting the call, I started to reflect upon why I like the practice so much.  Here are a few reasons:

  • It is student-centered,
  • It makes school feel less formal and more comfortable for students,
  • It helps create a family feeling
  • It sends the indirect message  to visitors and newcomers that we are different,
  • It's a Barton tradition.

As I began to compose an email to the students, I realized that I didn't really have any cons to share. After considering the issue for several minutes, I decided I should seek the perspective other stakeholders before responding. One staff member indicated that they believed it was often easier for some English Learners and struggling speakers to pronounce first names. Another longtime Barton teacher stated: 

"Using first names conveys a family feeling, a partnership, a closeness that is hard to achieve when some of us are Miss, Mrs. and Mr. and others are first name.  First names for everyone means that there are no false hierarchies among adults; we are Jonas, Holly, Patsy and Katy- not some adults are titled and some are not. It levels the playing field but does not imply a lack of respect.  In fact, it requires that all members of our community learn to respect one another because of our humanity, rather than because or rank or title.  If a family wants a child to use a title with adults because it is part of family culture to do so, it's ok! It's fun to experiment with names and titles.  The first name, given with love and care by my parents, is more special to me than my title and family name.  It is my honor to be on a first name basis with my students and their families."

Then, it occurred to me, I had not thought the question while intentionally using an equity lens. Considering all issues from multiple perspectives and thinking about racial and cultural components of issues is one way in which I strive to be an equity leader in education. As a result, I asked one of our teachers that is culturally and racially different than me what they thought about the question. The response was fascinating and caused me to reflect deeply. 

After a lengthy discussion, I asked this teacher if she would be willing to share her experiences and perspective with our community. She indicated she was willing and submitted the essay below to me this morning.  I hope you learn as much as I did and are prompted to reflect. One thing is clear, even when it comes to something as simple as this valued Barton tradition there are multiple perspectives.

 

By Dr. Angela Osuji

 

Who are you? Where do you come from? How do you identify and represent? What is your name? These are questions I am often asked and depending on the circumstance including that of time and space, I provide different answers.

Barton has the culture of addressing people by their first names with all good intents and purposes. For some, this is a core value of Barton. Though well intentioned, it creates some sort of cognitive dissonance for some staff, students and families from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

For some of us, what we consider as 'first name' is contextual and varied. Take me for example. My first name could very well be Ngozi- the name my father gave me or Adanne-the name my mother gave me (which probably could be closer to the truth since she is the first person in my family to see me at my birth - husbands were not allowed in at the time). My first name could still be Egonachiuwa - the name given to me by my grandmother and as the elder and matriarch of my family, she earned the right to name me. I was named Angela at my baptism because the Irish priest officiating it at the time could not fathom all Igbo names on my baptismal card. Since I received a British education, all my official documents have Angela written first. I have other first names as a result of my birth order, my father's title and the title given to me by my 'home' community as a result of my accomplishment. My first name could more reasonably be my family name-Osuji.

How we want to be called has deep cultural symbolisms as well. When my students ask, as part of my responsibility as teacher at Barton, this is what I tell them:

  • You can call me, Mrs. Osuji or Ms. Osuji. In doing so, you are helping me know my family. That name also has locations in time and space across time and space. You should be able to locate my family on the globe. This would be my preference.
  • You can call me Angela. In doing so, we are honoring the tradition of Barton of being on first names though my conception of first name varies.
  • You can call me Dr. Osuji -for that is important to some of my students who want to honor my academic accomplishments and see it as fodder to hope and dream as well as aim to achieve. This is important to them in an era of the apparent minority students' underachievement and underperformance.
  • You can call me any of my names and in doing so, are honoring those important people in my life who gave them to me.

This strategy provides them the opportunity, access and support to make reasoned choices as they strive to think systemically and globally. It increases their multiple perspectives skill acquisition and inter-cultural awareness. It is my way of globalizing my classroom.

--Jonas Beugen, Principal (email address Jonas.beugen@mpls.k12.mn.us)