Learning Names

I don't call out attendance on the first day of school.
As a student, I always dreaded that moment.

I knew the teacher would see my name on the list and
- horribly mispronounce it, or (maybe even worse)
- not even bother to try

Here's what I do instead:

I greet students at the door: "Come on in! Feel free to sit anywhere for now, but don't get too comfortable because I'm going to move you."

At the start of the semester I assign seats to everyone -- even 12th graders -- in alphabetical order by last name.

This is deeply unexciting; kids don't care for it, I don't even care for it as an actual seating arrangement, and I know progressive educators everywhere are eye-rolling so hard.

It's just that: it's the best way I've found to learn everyone's names.

And that's a critical step one.
My job is to forge relationships with students. To guide them. Challenge them. Support them. Assess them. Know them.

Their personal identities shape these interactions and their learning.

And there's no way I'm doing any of that without giving them the opportunity to tell me who they are.

And I say this to them, sort of.
That names are how we introduce ourselves, the first identifier we put out into the world.

I go first.
Before I ask anything of them, I introduce myself.

I tell them all about my name. 
What it means and what it means to me.
Why my parents gave it to me, and how their story shapes mine.
How it's pronounced and how it's often mispronounced.
My conflicted choice to change my name when I got married.

And how I dreaded the first day of school when teachers would mess up my name.

Then, I ask the entire class to line themselves up in alphabetical order by last name.
They get it mostly right in a couple of minutes. 
I can take it from there.

The person at the front of the line then says, "Hi, I'm ______."
And I say, "Hi, ______. Please sit here."

And so on.
Until I've listened to everyone's names.
Said everyone's names.
And we're all seated.

I don't hesitate to ask students to repeat their names.
I tell them in advance that I might do this, to make sure I hear them properly.
I make notes about pronunciations or nicknames or what anyone would prefer to be called.

And throughout the first few weeks, students look up while they're working to see me mouthing the names to myself and looking at the faces in the seats.

When someone raises a hand to participate, I might say, 
"Yes! But first tell me your name again, please?"

I overdo it on the playback in the first weeks.
"Ooooh, Raymond makes a great point here."
"Interesting idea; does anyone want to add to what Giniah said?"

I want to learn their names. They want to learn each other's names, too.

For homework on the first day of school, I ask students to complete an assignment where they tell me more about themselves. The first question is this:

Responses always vary here, in length and depth and emotion. I'm always glad I asked.

Maybe next year!

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