Name Calling

by Laura Savage-Rains, EdD

When I first arrived in the country where I would begin teaching, I had high hopes that the great training IICS had provided me as a new professor would soon pay off. I had learned from other IICS professors’ experiences how to be creative in earning opportunities to share the gospel with my students. Ethically, I knew it was never appropriate to use my lectern as a pulpit, yet I also knew that my presence in any classroom was a chance to demonstrate Christ’s attitude and love toward my students. It was challenging both academically and spiritually.

The country where I served was slowly coming out of more than a generation of communist philosophy and government. The educational system was still greatly influenced by that philosophy. I realized just how much this philosophy had permeated my students’ personalities early in my first semester.

A habit of IICS professors–wherever they are teaching–is to learn the names of their students. They will invest class time and personal time in learning how to pronounce their students’ names correctly and then addressing their students by name in class and outside of class when they see them in the halls or in town. So, my first couple of class periods for each group included taking photos of my students to help me learn their names. My students were amazed that I would do this.

One of my most treasured memories is about the time when Cosmina Iulia, a third-year university student, said to me after class early in the semester, “You’re the first teacher who has ever called me by my name.” Over the coming weeks, other students confirmed that had been their experience as well. I began to understand that under communism, the state is supreme and individuals are only instruments of the state, so there’s no need to make any personal connection with people.

An IICS professor’s philosophy of teaching includes the fact that each and every one of our students is created in the image of God and deserves love and respect for that. I had the privilege of watching several students be literally transformed in the classroom simply by my effort to call them by their names and affirm them as valuable individuals.

When I saw my students in the halls of the university or in the library, I would speak to them and use their names whenever possible. Oftentimes, the response would simply be a nervous little smile or just a quick glance. As that first semester progressed, the students eventually began to have the confidence to speak up in class. One day, a student sheepishly confessed, “I hope you don’t think we don’t want to talk to you when we see you in the halls. It’s just that we’re so surprised that you would speak to us, we don’t know what to say.” By the end of the semester, I had not only learned their names, but they had learned each others’ names and how good it feels to hear your name being called.

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