Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Teacher, teacher!"

I've been teaching a long time now, but I feel sometimes like I've come full circle with my students calling me "Teacher" instead of by my name (first name as we do with adult students in our informal state of California, or with title, Ms./Mrs. O.).

First, I went through a phase of requesting that students call me by my name.  Then I read an article in an ESL newsletter suggesting that we should feel honored that students want to call us "Teacher," which is a sign of respect in their own languages (Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Korean, and so on).

However, that voice inside my head began shouting at me after a few quarters of tolerating the "Teacher" name-calling.  This nagging inside me caused me to rethink this issue.  After all, if I were learning English so that I could study in an American college or university, wouldn't I want someone to tell me that calling an instructor by the name "Teacher" isn't respectful in the USA?  The answer is always, "Yes!"  In fact, foreign students should learn appropriate behavior both inside and outside an American classroom.  Students should learn that translating words directly from their language into English often doesn't work. This is one of those cases.

Recently, I've taken to reminding students to call me by my name when they call me "Teacher."  I respond by saying, "Student?"  One male Arab student recently has decided to call me "Teacher" (I believe, to be irritating) and a classmate defended his name-calling by saying, "In our country, it is a sign of respect."  I responded by saying, "Well, you're not in your country."

Afterward, I felt that I knee-jerked, but on rethinking and talking with others, I realized that that is the reality.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do!  When teaching a language, we should be teaching more than words and vocabulary.  We should also be teaching cultural norms and customs.  That is also my job as an ESL teacher.


Thomas said...

I completely agree, Evelyn. What's the point of learning a language when you are not willing to dig a little deeper and try to understand the culture you are in.


Evelyn said...

Thanks, Thomas! As a teacher, I want to be culturally sensitive and respectful of any non-native speaker's' customs. However, when it comes to something basic like how to address a teacher in class, I want my students to know that they would sound odd and/or rude calling an instructor "Teacher", especially, since the student's English is apparently strong enough to gain admission to an American institution.