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I have a student in my Ji Yang NP 0B class named Harry. Harry is a sweet kid who has been an EF student for about the past six months or so. He’s about 7 years old and a little slower than most of the rest of the class, but he tries really hard. Monday was my first class with this group since before winter school, and as expected it was near chaos. Cathy, my TA for this class, decided to wade in and rearrange the students in an effort to gain control. As she did, she started scolding them in Chinese, “Why do you always sit like this–all boys together, all girls together? It is not good!” She began shifting them to sit boy-girl-boy. She put Harry between the twins and Harry said to her, “Teacher, I’m not a boy!”

Now, at this point I was oblivious. I knew Cathy was rearranging that part of the room and lecturing the students in Chinese, but I was helping students in the front of the classroom (and I don’t know much Chinese yet). Cathy came hurrying up to me, pointed to Harry, and asked me, “You know that boy?” So I replied that yes, I knew who Harry was. Then Cathy said, “He is girl, Harry is girl!” I couldn’t believe it. I know kids that age can be rather androgynous, but as far as I could tell Harry was a boy. Knowing that 7 year olds will say almost anything when the feeling strikes them, I asked Cathy if she was sure. She got the attention of the whole class (24 kids), pointed to Harry, and asked in Chinese, “boy or girl?” The kids looked at us like we’d lost our minds and responded with girl.

I was nearly speechless. I’m the fourth foreign teacher this class has had in the past six months, they’ve had at least as many TA’s in that time–all of us thought Harry was a boy. Whoever gave her her English name (probably her first foreign teacher, not sure who that was) just automatically gave her a boy’s name. Even better, our class registers list boy or girl next to the names. They’re often wrong, but in this case Harry had been listed as a girl until someone crossed it off and wrote boy!

To be fair to all of us though, it turns out that Harry’s Chinese name is also a boy’s name. Apparently her mother really wanted a boy, and treats her (clothes, haircut, etc.) as one. It’s kind of sad really. Poor Cathy had to explain that “Harry” is a boy’s name and that we would give her a girl’s name instead. I managed to resist the urge to name her Sally, mostly because I know there are already several other Sally’s in that school. Now Harry is Molly–named after my friend and former coworker back home. The other reason I chose that name is because I think it will be an easy change for her to remember. Many children her age confuse capital M’s and H’s, and most Chinese children mix up l’s and r’s; so the name is not very different from what she’s used to.

I’m still having trouble believing she’s not a boy!


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