"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Shirley Shirley bo Birley, Banana fanna fo Firley...

One year I was paired in a team-taught course with another former lawyer, about my age, in his first full year of teaching. As the first day began, he turned to me and said, "I'm terrible with names. I've never going to learn all those names." I said, "It's part of the job. It might be the main part of the job. You have to let each and every kid know that you know who they are and that you would never confuse them with anyone else."

"How can I do that?" he said. "Fake it," I said.

When I was a student, each year I arrived at school afraid that I had forgotten how to take notes, how to study, how to prepare how to think. This went right through the fourth year of night law school. Happily, I was wrong.

In similar fashion, I am convinced each year of teaching that this is the year my ability to absorb 100 to 125 new names (not including the kids I see in extra-curricular situations) will break down completely. It doesn't help that researchers tell us we have more difficulty identifying persons of races different than our own. (This has nothing to do with racism, just biology.)

One thing one can't do is to categorize students. Sooner or later, you will pull out the wrong name from the right category, and it will become obvious just how you see that student. "Oh--she's the Indian kid." "Oh, he's the science nerd."

There are tips all over the Interwebs about remembering names. I like these. There simply is no substitute for looking each kid in the eye, saying their name, and, as soon as possible, figure out the means by which you are going to connect that student to your content. If a student is excited about vampires, Camaros or lacrosse, that is a handle a teacher can use--especially in the humanities--to make a connection to the material to be taught.

I do like to latch onto interesting and unusual names--given or family--and see if there is some kind of story. Once I've stood and talked with a student and shared a story about themselves with them, they are much harder to forget.

Until next summer, anyway! :)

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