The three R’s: New teacher’s name causes chaos

When+first-year+English+teacher+Dorian+Rolston+came+to+St.+John%27s%2C+he+had+no+idea+of+the+disarray+his+name+would+cause.

Photo Illustration by Matthew Hensel and Lexi Guo

When first-year English teacher Dorian Rolston came to St. John’s, he had no idea of the disarray his name would cause.

Ethan Kinsella and Keval Shah

This article was initially published in the Nov. 11, 2020 print issue of the Review.

When first-year English teacher Dorian Rolston came to St. John’s, he had no idea of the disarray his name would cause. Soon after his arrival, he received chaotic, misplaced emails and student complaints.

To Rolston’s surprise, two teachers with nearly homophonous last names had been teaching at the School for years: English teacher Warren Rawson and longtime math and science teacher Dwight Raulston (`71), who is also Director of Curriculum.

“I first learned of it through students, who seemed to be grumbling about the fact that there was all this confusion of names sounding like mine,” Rolston said. “Mostly, they’ve been complaining that it’s hard to keep all the names straight.”

Rolston has witnessed this confusion in several ways. Some students have referred to him as “Rawson” or “Raulston,” while others have contacted one of the other two teachers when attempting to reach him. 

Recently, Raulston received an email from a student who was going to be late for English class. Knowing the message was likely meant for one of the other teachers, he forwarded it to them. The three colleagues then conversed through an email chain to discern which of them it was meant for.

 “I forwarded it to both of them, and said: `I assume this must be one of yours, because I’m not teaching English anymore,'” Raulston said. “I didn’t even recognize the name, so that was not my student.”

Even before Rolston joined the faculty, Raulston and Rawson had been getting the wrong emails for years. 

When Rolston was first interviewing for his position, faculty members immediately noted the similarity. 

“When he interviewed, of course, just about the first thing everyone laughed about was his last name,” Rawson said.

Rawson, predicting more confusion to come, soon discovered even more similarities between himself and Rolston. Not only are their names similar, but their interests align: both teachers are avid tennis players.

Rawson dealt with similar problems after joining the School in 2013. Since Raulston was already well-known, some parents and teachers would confuse Rawson for his colleague–especially since both used the honorific “Dr.” before their names. 

“People assumed my name was a mistake,” Rawson said. “He has the recognition that comes with being here for 30-plus years. This is my eighth, so what do I expect?”

Despite the inconveniences, Raulston maintains his sense of humor. 

“It’s more understandable when it’s students. When it’s colleagues, I still think it’s funny,” Raulston said. “I’m sure it was annoying to [Rawson], but on one level, it’s kind of what people tend to do when their minds are elsewhere.”