Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Poor Epifanito

It's hard for me to learn Chinese names, and I have to learn a lot of them. They're the largest group in our school's ELL population, and by far. It doesn't matter how long I do this. I'm totally unfamiliar with a whole lot of them and it isn't getting much easier.

As if that weren't enough, the spellings my students use in English often mislead me to mispronounce them. I didn't find out until this year that I was mispronouncing a girl's name all last year. I should've been tipped off by students laughing at me every time I spoke her name.

This year, in my beginning class, I have a lot more Spanish speakers. Almost half the class speaks Spanish. One of my Spanish-speaking girls is upset that the Chinese names are so hard to say, so she named all the Chinese boys. I'm not exactly sure why she didn't name the girls. Every day, for a while, she would rattle off the names as she pointed to each boy.

I told her she didn't have the right to just assign people names. That was the job of their parents, I said, and they had done this years ago when her classmates were born. My student didn't care. Why was I wasting her time with this when the matter was already settled? Another teacher who covers this class told her the same thing. The student had already made her decision, though, it was final, and our words were just a wasteful diversion. She knew who these boys were, and just to make sure she didn't forget, she continued to announce their names at every opportunity.

She'd named one of the boys Julio. I told her Julio wasn't his name and she shouldn't call him that. The boy objected. He said his name was indeed Julio, and that was his English name. I told him Julio wasn't an English name. It was a Spanish name. He didn't care. That was his English name and he was going with it. He told me his teacher in China had given him that name.

This was a little hard for me to take, primarily because I knew it wasn't true. I know that English teachers in China don't always really know English, because I've had hundreds of students who studied English in China for ten years and came here knowing nothing. In China, they don't seem to teach conversational English. In my experience, they're more focused on discrete point tests and long essays that may or may not have meaning. Nonetheless, Chinese teachers from China do not issue Spanish names. This was my very first Chinese Julio.

So here I am defending this guy's identity and he gave it up to the first girl who decided he was someone else. I understand fifteen-year-old boys going with the decisions of fifteen-year-old girls. I once asked a fifteen-year-old boy, "If she jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump off the Brooklyn Bridge too?" The boy said, "If she jump, I jump." At that age, I may have jumped too. Fortunately, when I was that age, I was never forced into that particular decision.

Last week, I had one of my students transferred to another level. These things happen in my line of work. This was a pretty quiet boy. If you weren't paying attention, you might not have even known he was there. Now I did, because I have to take attendance. But I was pretty surprised when my young name-giver asked me, "Where's Epifanito?"

"Who's Epifanito?" I asked.

"You know Epifanito," she said. "He's the boy who sits right there."

"His name's not Epifanito," I said.

"Yes it is," she told me. "And where is he?"

"The boy who sat there has transferred to another class," I said.

"Poor Epifanito," she said, shaking her head in sympathy.
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