Anu Roy portrait

Written by Anu Roy

Anu began her journey in education as a TeachFirst trainee in 2017. Since then she has transitioned into being a TeachFirst Ambassador and she is chair of the TeachFirst BAME network. She is a Digital Learning Coordinator for UAL. She is a member of the Teachers Committee for the charity Be Her Lead.

I remember as a quiet and nervous NQT attending a meeting where myself and other English staff would chat about our incoming Year 7 cohort. As we worked our way through the Excel spreadsheet, a joke started forming where a member of staff referred to a student as ‘Chaka Khan’- alluding to the famous singer who goes by the same name. It felt harmless and I am sure the intention was not to cause embarrassment or mock names, but it felt wrong regardless. I would know. I am sure this happened when I moved from India to Wolverhampton to start Year 7 in a predominantly white school. 

 

I remember all too clearly squirming at the back of a classroom when a teacher confidently made their way through ‘Beth, Laura, Jess, Zoe’ and then the dreaded moment came closer. The teacher paused, squinted at the list with a frown on their face. 

 

‘Ama?

Amu?

Anaaa…’ 

 

Now the girls in the room were sniggering. They glanced back at me quickly and I did my best to force a small, to laugh it off even though I felt so humiliated inside. Especially because at that very moment the teacher who could not pronounce 

‘Ah-New-Rad-ha’ gave up altogether and said, ‘it’s too much for me. Can we just call you Annie?’. 

 

To have my name, my Bengali name given to me by my grandfather- a name which means ‘goddess of the gods’- reduced so casually to a westernized format that would be comfortable and convenient for my white teacher set the tone for my experience of education that year in Wolverhampton. It made me squirm whenever attendance was taken, it made me hesitant to raise my hand despite being confident about my subject knowledge and eventually-it made me reluctant about going to school. I wanted to feel invisible, to blend into the classroom walls because I was not British enough, I did not feel valuable. 

So fast forward 11 years and now I am the teacher. I am supposed to have more knowledge, more acceptance and confidence. However, in that meeting when this student had their name turned into a joke, I felt the same pangs of feeling small, feeling embarrassed on their behalf. 

 

So I spoke up, “it’s actually Shah-kir. Shakir Khan”. This was followed by some nodding, an acknowledgement of the changed atmosphere in the room and we moved on quickly to the next student. 

 

BAME students experience incidents like this every day and this must change. Here are some simple ways for educators to ensure this is avoided:

 

  1. Ask them exactly how you would like their name to be pronounced 
  2. If you can, ask them where their name comes from. Many ethnic-minority names have symbolic religious and cultural meanings. 
  3. Do not hesitate to correct colleagues who mispronounce a name in front of you if you are aware of the correct version 

 

Our names are the blueprint of our identity. Let us ensure we honour this for our students.

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