Name calling is cruel sport

7th April 2006 at 01:00
I never liked my surname, Barber, as a child. I thought it sounded both masculine, with it being a male occupation, and just plain funny.

Though I always expected a spot of teasing from my fellow classmates, I never received it, save the odd "Do you cut hair?" It was only as a young adult that I realised that it was actually quite a nice sounding name, one that my friends may even have envied.

Fast forward to the age of 30, when I embarked on my first year of teaching in a secondary school and The Sheep Thing, as I shall call it, began in earnest. It took a while, but once it started it spread around the school and I was powerless to stop it.

I got Baa Baa, Black Sheep sung to me in the classroom, in corridors and even outside while on duty. I left that school after a year to supply teach, but my real problems were just beginning.

Five years on and I have long stopped being surprised by the reaction my name inspires. It is almost more unusual to have no reaction than the standard, which is, if not instant references to sheep, certainly laughter.

Believe it or not, I have even encountered The Sheep Thing in a Year 1 class, though I don't think that was intended nastily.

I am convinced the name-calling has hampered my career. I once took on a contract at a key stage 3 school (Year 8 boys are the worst) and had to leave primarily because of the treatment I received from the students.

Sheep baa-ing was the abuse of choice. The worst culprit even swore on his mother's life that the noises he was making had nothing to do with my name.

Sometimes in a new school I can sense a bad reaction instinctively.

In these cases I announce myself as Miss Jones. You can just see the disappointment on pupils' faces when they can't think of anything funny to say.

It is times like this that make me realise how nice it must be to have a name that children don't automatically associate with farmyard animals and nursery rhymes.

I am at my most surprised when other teachers try to tell me that it is simply a part of the job, and that all teachers get something or other from their students.

In my case, though, the children never get bored of it, it is intended nastily, and they know that they will get away with it. In short, it is bullying.

If it was a racial issue (students from all races have felt the need to laugh and poke fun) it would be treated seriously, but I am simply a victim without much of a leg to stand on, unless I get married or have it changed by deed poll.

Why should I go to those extremes?

Judi Barber is a supply teacher in Leicester

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