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More than a job title: we all have names

by Rebecca Thomas

New job.

Day three.

Meeting my new children and teachers across five schools.

“Good morning class, this is our new ____________(insert organisation here) facilitator who will be taking you for sessions in Term 2.”

26 wide eyes turn around and stare at me blankly.


More Silence.

The principal showing me around tries to help break the awkwardness, she scrabbles to help the children make a connection to why I’m standing in their classroom grinning at them.

“You know...those sessions you had with James.”

Eyes light back up, murmurs across the class, looks of excitement on understanding who I am.

“That’s right, this is your new James.” the principal announces triumphantly.

I smile nervously and say, “Hi,” actually wanting to scream.

I’m not James. Who’s James? 

I’m me! I’m whaea Rebecca.

It’s only April, four months into the year and I’ve been a: PLD facilitator, a relief teacher and now apparently a ‘new James’. Each of these job titles fail to connect with the people I serve.

Later at the staff meeting, feeling slightly hurt about my ‘challenging introductions’, I stated defiantly and firmly that I wasn’t ‘James’. James had an entirely different set of skills and ideas to offer them. My skills are different. I’m Becca. I have an entirely different approach. However, I will be the one to help build efficacy, I will help to deliver the company’s kaupapa with fidelity and engagement. I am relational and all about pedagogy, and I will do my job title justice.

On my drive home I tried to unpack why the children didn’t understand who I was in the introductions. Why didn't they know what the purpose of James (or Becca) was in their school? Why was I so annoyed at being called ‘the new James’?

Eventually, I settled on the notion that the job title James (and now me) held was irrelevant for them. To the children James was a set of experiences and excitement that made their eyes sparkle, was it surprising they didn’t know he was the _______ facilitator for the school? Did it matter? They liked James, and all he had to offer.

I say this as, in the last blog I wrote for ‘educators who have been let go’, I challenged the idea that although your institution let you go, you are not lost, you are more than your job title. These children proved it. You are your name, and everything that name means, represents and stands for.

The power of names, whether students calling us by our first or last names with respectful titles, cannot be underestimated. There is an intimacy and connection that forms when we take the time to truly learn each other's names.

As a facilitator working across multiple schools and classrooms, it can admittedly be a challenge at first to commit all those beautiful names to memory. The temptation is there to rely on generics like "class 3RT" , "superstars" or "the year 3s." But in doing so, we reduce these amazing young people to just a label, a fill-in-the-blank collective. We miss seeing their individually shining selves.

The truth is, our students deserve for us to make that effort. 

They are so much more than any class number or year-level title could capture. Each carries a whole universe within their name - their family's hopes, their cultural traditions, the very essence of their being. Using those names is how we honour and cherish their precious identities.

A name is a powerful gift, one that binds a child to their whakapapa and the sacred stories of their ancestors. Within those few syllables reside - the mountains, the rivers and the winds that shaped their tūpuna before them. A name can invoke the mighty exploits of tipuna, or evoke the natural world that cocooned them in an oceanic embrace. It can underscore mana, pūmanawa, or whanaungatanga. By speaking a child's name (anyone’s name), we open a corridor for them to stride forth as the next rangatira, and storyteller. 

I'll never forget the first time a young girl greeted me by name - "Good morning, Whaea Rebecca!" Her face lit up with pride and belonging as she role-modelled the special respect we strive for. No longer was I just the "facilitator" or "that teacher." By using my name, she welcomed me into her world.

From that day, I made a vow to myself no matter how many schools, classes or cheeky nicknames, I will take the time to learn, practice and cherish every single name. Whether Orlando or Lyla, Miroslav or Khaleesi, those names deserve to be celebrated and known.  

In those first awkward introductions when the children stared blankly at my supposed "job title," I realised titles and roles are just temporary veneers - they gain no traction until we take the time to peel back those layers and connect.

It wasn't until the principal uttered James' name that I saw those young faces light up in recognition. Because for them, James wasn't a payroll category or human resources designation. James was a relationship. A window into possibility. A pathway to unlocking their potentials.

We are not just teachers, leaders, principals, caretakers, RTLBs, admin staff..., we are more than our job titles too - we are the personalities and spirits breathed into existence through our names, determined to be seen and valued as complete human beings.

Look forward to Term 2 educators and pay special attention to our names. Instead of walking past a person in the corridor and saying 'mōrena', include their name and feel the change in connection.

Because in the end, forming those name-to-name bonds is how we become far more than just titles to our community. We become their mentors, advocates, and way finders.

We become whānau. 

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