Becoming “Mrs. Melva”
Posted by mrsmelva on 16/07/2012
As a student teacher many many years ago, it was very exciting the first time a student called me Miss Schmidt. However, when a student had difficulty withpronunciation and called me Miss Shit, it was not so exciting. When I got my first teaching job I was happy when the vice principal told me that teachers here went by their first names. My colleague who had come to the interview with me, expressed some concern over whether or not the students would respect us or not. As I would be teaching middle years kids I was glad not to be risking the mispronunciation that was innocent in grade one. I doubt that it would have been so innocent with the older kids.
Several years later, on the first day of school we were told that we would all be switching to using our last names with mr., mrs, or ms. This decision was made by the principal based on discussion with an elder who felt that it would solve discipline issues. By this time I was married, and now had the same last name as several other staff members. There are a limited number of last names in the community, derived from the fur traders who came here years ago. I went to the principal and asked if I could opt out of the change, citing the examples of several teachers who had opted out of using their first names. The answer was no. I then suggested either Mrs. Melva or Mrs. Pink but the answer was still no. It was a confusing year. There were Ms. Hermans, Mr. Hermans and Mrs. Hermans and we kept getting mixed up. The last straw was a child from grade three bringing me a bunch of stuff that clearly wasn’t meant for me and insisting that her teacher had said to bring it to me. When I questioned her more specifically I found out that her teacher had said Mr. Herman. It was an innocent mistake on the part of the student given the similarity of the names and the fact that in Dene, her first language, pronouns are not gender specific. I gave her Mr. Herman’s first name and she trotted off smiling to deliver the items.
After school I met with the principal and told him that while displeased with the name change, I was totally unaccepting of the gender and that from then on I was going to be called Mrs. Melva.