This completes my run of Deleted Scenes from my early days and weeks at school.
My second classroom challenge was more idiosyncratic than cultural. I had a terribly hard time with their names, both remembering them and pronouncing them.
Table tents helped: a single sheet of paper folded in half lengthwise with each name written out so I could read it as it stood upright on their desk. I provided the paper and even brought in crayons so the students could add colorful flourishes and borders. That helped with remembering.
I also asked my students to tell me a story about their name, thinking that might anchor their name in my brain a bit. They could say anything: how they were named, by whom, or why, or an anecdote from later in their life, anything that had to do with their name. I began with a story of my own name.
“My father wanted to name me Janet Irene,” I started. “But, with my last name, Givens, my mother was afraid my classmates would one day tease me by calling me jig. So they named me “Janet Louise.”
I queried, “Do you know what a jig is?” Shaking heads told me no one did; so I demonstrated a short one. That got a laugh.
Between the verbal stories and the visual table tents, I expected to remember their names. I still didn’t.
I had over one hundred twenty different students that first semester and although some had the same name, I couldn’t remember the majority of them. However, no one else seemed to care.
But if the name didn’t have a gul (flower) in it, I couldn’t pronounce it that first year.
Fortunately, I had many flowers in my classes. I had Gulzhan, Gulmira, Gulnara, and Gulnura. I had Gulsaira, Gulsana, Gulshat, and Gulzat. And I had Gulminat, Gulsim, Gulya, and Gulzya.
I also had students with gul as the second syllable in their name: Aigul (moon flower) and two named Botagul (baby camel flower).
But in my focus on learning first names, I ignored everyone’s patronymic and last name, a faux pas I’d not fully recognize until my second year.
The patronymic, along with their first or given name, becomes the professional moniker within the workplace. There is no Miss, Ms., Mr., or Mrs. to be found in Kazakhstan. True to their Bolshevik history, Russians — from whom Kazakhs take this custom — don’t use titles.
Everyone is still a comrade, more or less.