How many of your elementary school teachers’ names do you remember? Despite the many years that have elapsed, I remember all of mine, from Miss Sanford in kindergarten to Mrs. Maloney in eighth grade. And it’s likely that you do as well. In fact, students usually learn teachers’ names the first day of school. After all, while teachers have many students each year, students in the early years have only one teacher. That certainly makes the teacher and the name memorable. Now here’s the question: How quickly do you learn all of your students’ names?

Names are the first pieces of information we receive about students. Before we see them, hear anything about them or have the opportunity to meet them, we receive a list of names. And once we get to know our students, admittedly, some are more memorable than others. The delightful, the comical and the disruptive all become equally firmly entrenched in memory. But what about the quiet student, the one who never raises his hand, the one who responds almost inaudibly when you call on her — how long does it take you to learn their names?

The truth is that names are so intricately linked to each person that when we fail to learn students’ names or take months to do so, what we’re really saying is that the students are not important enough to put forth the effort. That’s why the following actions matter:

  • Make a pact with yourself to learn all students’ names within a couple of days if you have only one class and by the end of the second week if you teach on the secondary level. Students appreciate the effort.
  • Be sure to learn correct pronunciations for each name. Saying students’ names incorrectly shows a lack of respect for them as individuals.
  • Greet each student by name every day simply because it makes them feel valued. Try it and see.
  • Use students’ names in class instead of pointing to them. This reinforces your respect for your students.
  • Speak students’ names with joy, with love, with kindness. Students receive the emotion with which we say their names. And, yes, it matters to them.

When we give our students the simple courtesy of learning their names quickly, the respect of pronouncing them correctly, the value of using them in greeting and in class, and the pleasure of hearing their names spoken warmly, these actions transform the student/teacher relationship, building bonds that last a lifetime. There’s power in a name.

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