I think all teachers can pinpoint the teacher(s) in their past who helped them to become better teachers. Usually when asked about my influences, I quickly recall the confidence-building enthusiasm Mrs. Miller showed for my writing, the gentle sarcasm as Miss Hughes showed me how to work that geometry problem again and again, and Coach Harlow’s tough love when she refused to let me give up on those early morning cross country runs. The one teacher who may have had the most profound impact on my classroom teaching, though, shall remain nameless.
My best friend was in my 7th grade English class. I sat in front of Janet and often turned around to talk to her. Every day the teacher would yell at me—“Hey you! You! You in the red shirt! Turn around and quit talking to Janet!” It was weeks into the school year before she knew my name. I never understood how she could know Janet’s name and not mine. I wasn’t bad; I was talkative. I am the daughter of a teacher and knew very well how to behave in a classroom. I was a favorite student of many teachers. Not this one. It was a battle of wills through the entire class; if she didn’t care enough to know my name, I certainly didn’t care enough to behave. Thankfully, the classes only lasted six weeks then. I don’t think either one of us could have lasted much longer.
From the first time I stepped into a classroom as a teacher, I knew I had to make it a priority to learn every student’s name as quickly as possible–I did not want anyone feeling the way I did in that class. I was focused only on the students’ feelings when I made this pledge to myself, little did I realize what an impact it would have on classroom management. The best advice I can offer to any new teacher is to learn your students’ names and learn them quickly.
I know some people claim to be “bad at names,” but that’s really no excuse. If the students see that you’re making the effort, they will respect you for trying. They understand that you have 150 (or more!) students, and can’t be expected to know them all right away; each time you learn another individual’s name, that’s another kid on your side. They will remember that you cared enough to learn their name and it will show in their behavior in class.
It usually takes three or four days, but I do it and the kids are impressed. Every year, they comment about how quickly I was able to learn their names. Weeks into the year, I hear stories of teachers who haven’t learned their names yet and I am immediately transported back to that classroom at Jefferson Junior High.
How do I do it? Repetition is my secret. I tell the kids right up front that I am going to say their names more in these first three days than any other time in the year, and to be patient with me. I call roll on the first day, repeating their names after they tell me what they prefer to be called (even if it is the same name on my roster), and I write it on the seating chart as I say it aloud. (I always let them sit where they want the first day.) I carry the seating chart with me through the class that whole period, using names every time I talk to individual students, often referring to them by name in my examples of class rules and procedures (If Nate finishes his work before the bell, he can get a magazine from the rack on the wall.) . If I have extra time at the end of class, I walk through the class, seating chart in hand, and look at each kid and say his/her name aloud. When the bell rings, I start over with a new roster and a new blank seating chart. It’s a long day, but it’s worth it in the end.
On the second day, I greet them at the door, trying to get their name right, and I ask them to sit in the seats they sat in yesterday. I call roll without the seating chart and ask them not to acknowledge their names, but to let me try to identify them. I make mistakes, but I get many of them right. Then, I use the seating chart again as we go through class this day. I follow the same process on the third day.
On the fourth day, I greet them at the door and ask them to challenge me by sitting in different seats. I try to identify them from the roster only and then work on the ones I’m still struggling with remembering—which is usually only a couple at this point.
This process also helps me to get to know who is friends with whom so that when I make my real seating chart during the second week, I can separate my talkers.
I was watching “Brain Games” on National Geographic last night and they talked about the common difficulties we experience when we try to remember names. They suggested using mnemonic devices–Genius Gia and Solution Susan–to help associate names with actions. Gia was identified as a genius earlier in the show and Susan came up with the solution to a problem; both of these alliterative nicknames would help jog your memory if you can associate what they did earlier with their faces when you try to recall their names.
For the musically inclined, the show used the “Nationwide is on your side” tune to illustrate another way to remember four names—Rachel, Devin, Laura, Anne. Crazy! I could never come up with the jingle on my own, but I’m writing this about 11 hours after seeing this five minute segment on TV and I am still singing the correct names to the tune, despite all of the distractors they included in the segment! I guess it really works.
No matter which technique you use, I guarantee your students will appreciate your efforts. It’s one of those little things that shows them you care. As I was writing this post, I kept singing one of my old favorite songs, so I’ll leave you with this bit of wisdom from Love and Rockets:
My world is your world
People like to hear their names
I’m no exception
Please call my name
Call my name
Give it a try this year–see what a difference it makes!