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Education, Students, Teaching

How do you know my name?


cc flickr photo: by Canadian Veggie

Lately, I have been thinking about what it means to provide students with “personalized” learning, and how we get there.  In an ideal world, we would tailor our instruction to accommodate the individual interests of students and allow them to pursue content through passion.  Of course, in order to move education in that direction, we have to know our kids–their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, preferred learning styles, family situations…and the list goes on.  Not an easy task when you are responsible for one-hundred twenty plus students.  So, how do we make that task less daunting?  Perhaps, we should do a better job enlisting the help of our students.

Recently I was in a classroom, observing an activity, when I began talking to a young man about his project.  In the course of our conversation, I used his first name, to which he responded:

“How do you know my name?!”  (picture a shocked expression on his face)

I explained that I do my best to learn the names of the students on our campus, but went on to provide several reasons he had made a positive impression on me (i.e. participation in sports and clubs, demonstrated kindness to others, and praise from teachers).

During my explanation, it occurred to me that we might not spend enough time talking to our kids about how they form positive impressions.  For many students, blending in provides a sense of security and self-advocacy is an uncomfortable concept.  However, making a name for yourself is not only a critical skill for them to develop, it will help us as educators better understand our students and, in turn, individualize their instruction.  Kids need to understand that they don’t have to change who they are to be recognized, but they may have to be put themselves out their, so to speak.  Take a calculated risk.

I will do everything I can to remember your name, but giving me a good reason to remember it isn’t a bad thing.  Through your words and actions, leave a positive impression.


About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.


6 thoughts on “How do you know my name?

  1. This just brought back a wonderful memory! I was head of a middle school with 60 students and was determined to know everyone’s name the first day! I was feeling a bit confident and decided to make a bet – if I couldn’t remember everyone’s name I’d have to wear a Yankees hat to our field trip on Friday (we were going to a ropes course for team building the first week of school). The middle schoolers cheered and a girl named Julie (and a Yankees fan) shook my hand and said, “Dr. Curran, you’re on!”

    In front of the whole middle school, I smiled and said, “Julie, you have a deal. If I can’t call everyone by name, I’ll wear a Yankees hat on the field trip.” I rattled off each and every name and was beaming with pride as Julie stood next to me. At the end, Julie said to me, “But, what’s my name?” I responded, “I already shook your hand and called you by name.” I was literally going blank. The heckling began and I came up empty. I wore the Yankees hat on the field trip. It was such a bonding experience and one that I’ll never forget.

    As a side note, I was in pain buying a Yankees hat. I decorated that hat with every Red Sox pin I owned, wore red socks up to my knees and was in the parking lot early that Friday morning greeting students and parents with a smile from ear to ear. Not only did I know everyone by name, I followed through on a promise which is huge in the eyes of middle schoolers. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of taking the time to know your name and build community!

    Posted by MBFXC | May 31, 2011, 7:04 pm
  2. I love this post. I love greeting my students by name and talking with them personally. I love that, three years in, I know about 99% of my students’ names upon first glance. (Those sets of identical twins sometimes give me a run for my money!) I encountered the same question as you during my first year. Now they just EXPECT I know their names, as they should. When kids started realizing I could identify them, we’d engage in games of “What’s my name?! What’s my name?!” if we were in the hallway or out on the playground together. People truly underestimate the power that simply building a personal relationship with a child has on his learning. I honestly feel that conflicts we encounter each day are the result of breakdowns in communication due to lack of strong personal relationships. Thanks for this awesome reminder about ways we can work to leave a positive impression with our students, staff, and school community!

    Posted by Lyn Hilt | June 1, 2011, 3:18 am
  3. Nothing is more powerful than calling someone by their name. I love it when students ask, “How do yo know my name?”
    I usually reply, “I know the names of all the great people here!”

    Thanks for the post, Jeff!

    Posted by Hatcherelli | June 1, 2011, 8:48 am
  4. My name is Regina Sawyer and I am an EDM 310 from the University of South Alabama. I believe knowing your students, in particular, their names is a requirement as a good teacher. This is not only beneficial to the student, it is extremely important for a teacher in developing an outstanding student/teacher relationship. It builds trust and understanding for students when they internalize that a teacher values them for who they are.

    Posted by Regina Sawyer | July 1, 2011, 8:08 am


  1. Pingback: Building School Community: Red Sox, Children and Magic | The Dyslexic Professor - June 1, 2011

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Jeff Delp

Junior high principal by day, sports enthusiast, technology fanatic and jedi in my own mind. Striving to be a difference maker!
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