In late-August, I strongly voiced my opinions against taking work home each day and for the weekend. We were going into the third wave of Distance Learning here in Vietnam, and I knew my mental health and my eyesight would suffer severely if I sat at home to teach all day and stayed on the computer later into the evening. My team did not react well to this.
Looking back, I was really bad at communicating what I meant at that moment. Maybe I was already frustrated with online teaching and meetings. Maybe I had a bad day. Maybe I had a migraine. I can’t remember the exact reason why, but I know I should’ve said more about it. Because what I said was “I am not doing work after school or on the weekends” and I can kind of see how that made me look “lazy” or “not invested”, but that wasn’t what I meant at all.
As a teacher with chronic migraines and mental health challenges, time and energy is not something I have an unlimited amount of each day. Especially during online learning, chances of migraines caused by screen time & noise from the laptop increases exponentially - I’m lucky if I can go 2 days out of the 5 work days without a migraine in the afternoon. They vary in intensity and sometimes I can push through to finish the bare minimum of what I need to finish, but other times, it’s laptop closed, lights off, and a cold compress on my face 5 minutes after my last class. And I’ll sleep until the next day - my body shuts down from the pain.
Of course, logging off right after my last class, usually around 2pm, leaves me with almost no time to prepare for the next day, the next week, the next unit. And of course, I find time to “make up” the time I “should’ve been working but didn’t”. Usually I’m awake as early as 5am so that gives me time to catch up on the work I didn’t do the previous evening because I fell asleep. And sometimes, I open my computer on the weekends to do what I didn’t do during the week because I prioritised the things that had a shorter deadline. Living with chronic and debilitating conditions forces you to be good at prioritising and time management.
So when I said I wasn’t doing work after school or on the weekends, I didn’t mean “I will never do work outside of work hours”. While I wish this was a statement I could make, because work-life balance and all, it’s a luxury that I can’t have because of the things I struggle with. And it’s okay, because logically, resting when my migraines begin is the best choice I can make in that moment, even if that meant I was putting off “doing work” until later, until “outside of work hours”. If I don’t rest, the work I do isn’t going to be the quality it can be, because 80% of my brain is focused on the pain and only 20% on the work. So to me, the choices I make when I’m not well, prioritising my physical and mental health, and catching up on work at a different time when I’m better, makes sense.
And of course, sometimes I’ll be sitting on my couch on a Saturday at 7pm, and my brain will come up with (what I think is) the most EXCITING lesson plan EVER to exist on this earth. So sure, I’ll open my computer, jot down some notes, fire it off to myself and maybe a trusted colleague who knows there is absolutely zero obligation for them to check their emails or read or respond, because if I don’t do it in the moment, the plan is lost somewhere in my brain, never to be found again. So yeah, there are exceptions. Like this post - it’s 8:41pm on a Saturday and I suddenly had both the motivation and the inspiration to write this post that I’ve been meaning to write for months now…
But all of this doesn’t mean I will voluntarily put in time and effort to do work outside of work hours. If you ask me to do something at 3pm on a Thursday and expect me to have it done by 8am Friday, my answer is going to be a hard “no”. If you give me something to do at 2pm on a Friday to be done by 3pm Monday, when I teach ALL blocks on Monday, my answer is going to be “I need more time than that”. Because I shouldn’t have to give up my free time, my “non-contracted time” for people who don’t respect work - life balance. I shouldn’t have to, and I won’t, use my evening or weekend to accommodate the needs of people who didn’t plan ahead - because, let’s face it, usually when the turnaround time is less than 24 hours, it’s a document or a project or a plan that wasn’t well thought out, something that’s being made because we forgot to think about it or plan for it.
I think what I’m trying to say in all this rambling is that you shouldn’t expect people to be okay with giving up their time to work. Because working overtime and not getting paid for it only takes a toll on our mental health - work shouldn’t take over all aspects of your life. And keeping to work hours doesn’t make you any less of a teacher than those who spend all of their free time planning and prepping. It’s all about good time management, prioritising, and being efficient.
Work smarter, not harder. Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
In 2018, I wrote this blog post, “What’s In A Name” where I discussed the connection between a name and an identity, and the realities of having a non-Western name in an international context. The majority of students at my school in Vietnam have Western nicknames registered in the database, like Jason or Annie. They have their Vietnamese name, but many of them don’t go by that in the class.
It’s been 3 years since I wrote that post, and in the last three years, I’ve learnt more. I’ve met people who have come from all walks of life, people with experiences so contextually different from mine but conceptually the same. I came across books and posts and Tweets that forced my brain to think and expand beyond what I knew. I learnt and I grew, and as I begin applying for jobs for the next school year, now is the time.
I will no longer be going by the Anglicised pronunciation of my name, Kanako (Ka-Nah-Ko) that I’ve gone by for 15 years and will be using the proper pronunciation of my name, “KA-nako” (click here to listen)
I know I don’t have to explain anything to anyone, but if you want to learn about the process I went through to come to this decision, keep reading :)
In 2005 when I moved to Taipei, my first time abroad, I didn’t speak any English, I didn’t know anything about languages and cultures that weren’t Japanese, and so when my teacher pronounced my name as “Ka-Nah-Ko’, I accepted that that was “how it was pronounced in English”. I didn’t know better and a part of me thought it was “cool” to have a name that’s MY name but also a bit different. It made me feel… cool. Different. Better. And that was it; that was my “name” for years to come.
In 2010 upon returning to Japan, I met a new group of people; English speakers who also spoke Japanese. I noticed they had the tendency to pronounce my name the Japanese way, and I didn’t think too much about it beyond “oh they know how to say it in Japanese so they’re just using that”. 2010 me was so oblivious and naive…
10 years later, I sat in my living room in Vietnam, reading Dr. Danau Tanu’s book, “Growing Up in Transit”. While this book had many many topics that were eye-opening for me, including examining my internalised racism, believing in the supremacy of Western ideas, concepts, goods, people, etc… which I’d love to write about in another post, but this section really really stood out to me.
In relation to a student, Vandana, who decided on how her name is pronounced based on how her kindergarten teacher said it in the class, not by how it is pronounced by speakers of her language, Danau writes that “(a)lthough (mis)pronunciation of a name may appear trivial, it is symbolic of the power of the dominant culture to shape identities''. Both Vandana and I allowed speakers of other languages, and more importantly, speakers of English, the dominant language, to determine HOW our cultural names are pronounced. And me accepting that as is, isn’t that a prime example of internalised racism and internalising the Western “brand”? My name, a beautiful Japanese name, wasn’t perceived to be important enough to maintain its pronunciation and I just… went along with it.
Reading this back in September, I began thinking about what this realisation means for me. In a way, the Anglicised pronunciation of my name has given me an identity, an international identity. I was Ka-NAH-ko around international friends, and KA-nako around Japanese friends. And that’s how I’d thought about it for years. But now, I’m… more knowledgeable. More inquisitive. More self reflective. More aware of how my beliefs & values have been shaped up to this point.
At the AIELOC / WoCinELT Conference this weekend, Darnell Fine encouraged us to engage in a conversation about names. About getting our students’ names right. Trying our best to pronounce names that may be “difficult” for us, depending on what languages we speak. How names that are “difficult” for us are just “unpracticed”. So, learn, practice, have students correct you, practice again, master it.
And that’s when it hit me.
If I, an educator, a TCK, an adult, a person who has been a member of the international community for more than half of my life, is continuing to identify by the wrong pronunciation of my name because that is what the dominant culture demanded from me, then how can I encourage my students to be better? If I don’t do better *for myself* how can I support my students to do better? If I don’t believe in the importance of correctly pronounced names *for myself* how do I instill this belief in my students?
One of the goals I have in life is to model the beliefs, values, and behaviours I want to see from my students. Whether that’s being principled, doing the right thing, being vulnerable, or being true to myself, I can’t preach what I am not practicing. It’s not an authentic example for students to see if I don’t believe in it.
So. I am starting by practicing what I believe in. I’m starting with me. So I can do better, for myself, and for my students.
So. Hello. My name is Kanako, pronounced KA-nako. It’s nice to meet you all, again.
This info-graphic was a part of a PowerPoint presentation outlining “adult growth”. I came across this PowerPoint as a resource that was provided to me when our team was reflecting on our year and the programme, and it really got me thinking.
I am a “Self-Authoring” knower, on the way to becoming a “Self-Transforming” knower. I am confident in who I am, what I believe in, and what I practice, and I continue to engage in practices that help me grow as a professional and as a person. I am involved in school activities and I *try to* help my colleagues whenever I can. I will take on extra work, if I know it helps other people during a busy time.
Or so I thought.
“All the Brendon’s I’ve known have been tall!”
“Alisha? She doesn’t look like an Alisha.”
“All Vietnamese/Chinese/Korean have Nguyen/Chen/Kim as their last name.”
More often than not, we stereotype and make assumptions about other people and their culture just by their names. And usually, names are one of the first information we acquire about a new person in our lives. For example, I already know the names of my colleagues for next year, even though they are currently working at another school and will not physically be in Vietnam until late July. And oddly enough, their names are actually the only thing I know about them.
But a name is so much more than just a name.
A name is an identity.
Some names have meaning and significance, like how Abigail is derived from a Hebrew name that means “my father is joy”, or how Ichiro (一郎) means “first born son“.
Our given name is something we carry with us from the time we are born to the time we leave this world. It is often the one thing that don’t change in a life full of changes. It identifies us in a crowd, separates us from others, and we feel a connection to someone who shares the same name as us.
So why are we not making more of an effort to learn our students’ names?
Many of our students go by a “Western” name, even though the majority of the students are Vietnamese. It helps the expat teachers, because Vietnamese names are difficult to pronounce… but should that stop us from learning their real names?
In Kiang (2004), many Asian American students give testimonies to their experiences with hard-to-pronounce names. One notes the positive emotion and connection she felt when a professor pronounced her Vietnamese last name correctly.
Shouldn’t we be doing the same for our students too? Shouldn’t we be allowing, no, ASKING, our students to identify by a name that they have a strong connection to, something their parents thought long and hard about to give to their child, instead of an easy-to-pronounce Western name that they got just because they were coming to an English speaking school?
If we can pronounce names like Tchaikovsky, Niamh, Scwarzenegger, and Mikhailov, we can learn to pronounce Dinh Ngoc Truc Anh too.
Although I’m not living in the US anymore, it’s hard to ignore the countless tragedies and appalling incidents that’s been happening in the last few months. Unsurprisingly, they are reported through other countries’ news media outlets like BBC and World News Asia, both of which I follow on Twitter. On the other hand, as a side note, Japanese media outlets rarely, if ever, reports school shootings in the United States. It’s just something I’ve noticed recently.
It has been reported that there’s been more than a dozen shootings on school campuses in 2018. More than a dozen, in the first two months. Following the Parkland shooting, the number of posts I’ve seen from my friends and colleagues in relation to gun control, arming teachers with guns, what their lockdown drill looks like, and the political action or lack thereof, have increased significantly.
Unrelatedly, at my school in Vietnam, we practiced a lockdown drill a few months ago. This was nothing like the lockdown drill I had practiced at public schools in the US during my student teaching. “Lockdown” was explained as something we’ll do if there is a threat on campus. And to our students, a threat meant someone who should not be on campus. No one ever thought that a person with a gun could ever come into the school, that a shooting would happen in a school was beyond comprehension to these kids. Guns were something that they only saw in movies and games they played, not something that could actually hurt someone they cared about. This realisation, along with the aforementioned increasing posts about the shootings and a real hard look at the students and families I work with, have got me thinking about the real differences between US public schools and international schools.
Here’s a topic that’s come up a lot recently again at school and in this online course I’m taking about the use of the mother tongue (L1) in the classroom. It’s something I’ve thought about writing for a while now, and with the course prompting me to think about this topic quite often, I think it’s time I gather my thoughts in a post. The topic today is, translanguaging.
“Translanguaging is the act performed by bilinguals of accessing different linguistic features or various modes of what are described as autonomous languages, in order to maximize communicative potential.” – Ofelia García (2009)
I want to add to the definition above, that in addition to maximizing communicative potential, translanguaging can be highly useful in accessing academic content.
But before I dive into that, I want to write about the terminology.