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Mispronouncing Student’s Name Now a ‘Microaggression’

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A campaign initiated by the National Association for Bilingual Education and the Santa Clara County Office of Education says a teacher who mispronounces a student’s name is causing a negative emotional state that can lead to poor academic success.

The campaign, titled “My Name, My Identity: A Declaration of Self,” says on its website, “Did you know that mispronouncing a student’s name negates the identity of the student? This can lead to anxiety and resentment which, in turn, can hinder academic progress.”

Rita Kohli, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Riverside, told NEA Today – the publication of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union – that overlooking the mispronunciation of a student’s name is a “microaggression” that can sabotage the learning process.

“Names have incredible significance to families, with so much thought, meaning and culture woven into them,” Kohli says. “When the child enters school and teachers – consciously or not – mispronounce, disregard or change the name, they are in a sense disregarding the family and culture of the students as well.”

Kohli and Daniel Solorzano conducted a study in 2012 called “Teachers, Please Learn Our Names!: Racial Microagressions and the K-12 Classrooms.” They found that mispronouncing students’ names affected their social and emotional state.

“Students often felt shame, embarrassment and that their name was a burden,” Kohli says. “They often began to shy away from their language, culture and families.”

She adds that teachers who mispronounce a student’s name tend to do so because they find it challenging “to center cultures outside of their own.”

Fortunately for most, Kohli cuts some slack for teachers who mispronounce a student’s name on the first attempt.

“We can’t say every sound or name in the world, but it is how we respond that matters,” she says.

Meanwhile, education blogger Jennifer Gonzalez refers to the mispronunciation of a student’s name as “a tiny act of bigotry.” She continues:

Whether you intend to or not, what you’re communicating is this: Your name is different. Foreign. Weird. It’s not worth my time to get it right. Although most of your students may not know the word microaggression, they’re probably familiar with that vague feeling of marginalization, the message that everyone else is “normal,” and they are not.

“And before you get all defensive about the bigotry thing, let’s be clear: Discovering that something you do might be construed as bigotry doesn’t mean anyone is calling you a bigot,” Gonzalez adds. “It’s just an opportunity to grow. An opportunity to understand that doing something a little differently shows others that you respect them.”

The “My Name, My Identity” campaign urges schools to take the following pledge:

I, ­­­­­­­­­­_______, do hereby affirm my commitment to the My Name, My Identity Campaign by pledging to:

  • Show respect to others’ names and identities in schools by pronouncing students’ names correctly
  • Be a model for students by sharing information and resources about showing respect to others’ names and identities
  • Spread the word about the importance of respecting others’ names and identities
  • Share my name story on social media
  • Be proud of who I am and celebrate our differences

As CNSNews.com reports, 528 school districts across the country have recently launched a campaign to “pronounce students’ names correctly” in order to encourage respect and inclusion and to be sensitive to the child’s cultural background.


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