Author Archives: st_inspired@admin

How I Learn Student Names

Each period during the school year, I seem to get a new group of students. This past period, I got five new groups, most of which were about 25 each. One of my goals is to learn all the students’ names by the end of the first lesson. It’s not that difficult if you put your mind to it. Also, it impresses, although it sometimes ends up feeling like a bit of a party trick. But that’s how memory things are.

It almost feels like I don’t really have a system. However, I have to admit that I do, because I do the same thing every time. Here’s what I do.

Step 1: While I’m taking attendance, I say the name and look up to see who said, “Here.” This alone might make me think, “She looks exactly like an Eline.” Or it might give me the opportunity to say, “How do you pronounce Taasien?” And that conversation might make the name and the face connect in my mind. I might also say, “My mother’s name is Sammie,” which would connect the two. I’m just doing whatever I can to make a connection. I throw the nets out wide in my brain.

Step 2: I send around a sign-in sheet. However, rather than a regular sign-in sheet like I have the rest of the period (with the names in alphabetical order), I send around a blank sheet of paper because the names will be in order when it makes its way back to me.

Step 3: I have them do an exercise wherein they introduce a partner, so I get to hear them talk, I hear a little interested fact about each of them (favorite food, sport or hobby), and I get the opportunity to ask a follow-up question, which might make a connection in my brain between their name and face.

Step 4: By the time the list has gone around, I’ve learned a few of their names already, so I just look down and remember that Jasper (whose name stuck in my head for whatever reason) is sitting next to Milou.

Step 5: I use their names as much as possible. This is an old trick, but it works. I just find reasons to use it. “Oh. That’s similar to what Billy said,” for example.

Step 6: While they’re doing a group or pairs activity, I look down the row and say their names in my head. But what if they don’t sit in exactly the same order next lesson? What if I’m learning the names in order?

What I do to prevent that is go down the row backward the next time. Then I’ll go back and forth from each end until I get to the middle. Then I just look at random people and think of their name.

It’s sort of a messy, random method, but it works. The point is that my intention at the beginning of the lesson is to walk out of the room having learned all of their names. Also, I believe I can do it, so I do it.

This is what makes it feel like a party trick: I will often end the first lesson by saying, “So Saskia, Tony, Barbara, Kim, Julie…etc.” down the line. “…have a good week and I’ll see you next Monday.” It’s always a winner. Learning student names is so very important. Set the intention to do it, and then just do it.

For a more formal methodology, check out Luis Angel, an amazing memory coach and learn his method for connecting names and faces.


First Day Jitters

I walked into class yesterday and found myself nervous. The class was a whole new group of students. They’d had a different teacher the previous period, Joan, a wonderful British woman I’ve come to enjoy working with. My reptilian brain went into competitive mode: they probably liked Joan so much that they’ll be dissatisfied with me or even hate me.

Realistically, I know it’s not a contest. And moreover, I know that students don’t have that much invested into who’s teaching them. It’s like I’m always saying: “No one is paying as much attention to you as you are.” Still, I wanted them to like me. But mostly, I wanted to set a tone. Joan had told me that one of the three groups I was getting this period was restless and that there was a group of young men in particular that was very difficult.

“Don’t tell me which group,” I said. I love a game. I love to guess.

However, I was also afraid of being influenced by her experience with this group of students. It would be confirmation bias: if she says, “Group 2 won’t sit still,” my brain will see Group 2 as never sitting still. Right?

So what happened? I walked into the room with each new group, and I treated them exactly how I treat all groups of new students. I take attendance, looking up and at each student as they say, “Here.” I tell them that they need to put their cell phones away, informing them that it’s one of my ‘things’. (The other being chatter during the lesson.) And I structured the lesson around trying to learn everyone’s name, which I explain in a separate post. I’ve read up on learning names, and I realize I have my own method.

And they were all pretty well behaved. The third group that was unbelievably loud while they were entering the room and while I was setting things up to start the lesson. It was that kind of racket that rattles my bones. (I haven’t felt that kind of ‘loud’ since my last school, which entailed teaching young dance students who had issues with sitting still.) But even the third group settled down, listened to me and participated in the lesson. I haven’t asked my colleague which group it was, and I will wait to do that. I want to see how things progress.

In the end, all of the lessons went as planned, which is to say they went well. The tone was set, and we set a good foundation for moving forward. It’s interesting to observe myself in these lessons. I learn a lot: namely, that I’ll be fine.

Update: The third group was the group Joan was talking about.