The Substitute Teacher Guide to Remember Names in the Classroom
Why is it Important to Learn my Students’ Names?
Learning a student’s name and using it establishes an instant connection. It shows that you care enough about a child to learn his or her name and that you are obviously an experienced and capable teacher. A student feels valued if a teacher calls him or her by name. At some subliminal level, the child feels closer to you and will almost always respond more readily to your requests.
There is almost a magical aura that surrounds a substitute teacher who can learn the name of every student before the end of the first day in class. The students know it’s not easy to do that, and they are impressed with you. That’s never a bad thing.
Will There be a Seating Chart or Name Cards?
The short answer is: there should be, but don’t count on it. Principals often require teachers to leave a seating chart in a folder for substitutes. However, teachers tend to change seats often and don’t always remember to update the seating chart. You shouldn’t rely on its accuracy without other verification. To verify the seating chart, ask a special helper to assist you.
Most primary grade teachers keep large name cards on the children’s desks. However, these cards rip and are often lost by mid-year. When I subbed and there were no name cards on the desks, I had the students fold notebook paper in thirds. Then I had them write their names on the papers and stand them up. If there was time, I asked them to decorate their name cards in a manner that described their interests. For instance, I told them that if they loved music, they could decorate their card with musical notes. I often made a sample to show them.
What Should I do if I Can’t Pronounce a Student’s Name?
Mispronouncing a name is guaranteed to cause disruption, laughter, and embarrassment. When you are not sure of a name while you’re taking attendance or teaching a lesson, there are two things you can do:
- Quietly walk over to that student and ask him or her to help you learn how to say his or her name.
- Ask a helper to go over the roster of student names with you before class begins. Your helper can teach you the proper way to address the students whose names might be foreign or unusual to you.
If you encounter a difficult name on a written list and can’t exercise either of these options, you might say, “I’m not quite sure how to pronounce this name. I’ll spell it, and you tell me how to say it properly.”
Are There any Tricks for Remembering Names?
Trying to remember the names of a classroom full of children may seem overwhelming for a new substitute teacher. But there are tricks that can help you.
- Repeat the name immediately after you learn it. Say “Hi, Marcus, nice to meet you.”
- When students are doing written work, walk around the room and look at their papers. Compliment a student by name, while reading the name at the top of the paper. I have found this trick to be extremely effective.
- When you want to praise a student’s answer to a question, always praise using his name. This will reinforce the name in your memory and will make the student feel that you respect him enough to remember his name.
- Try to remember both the first and last names. Believe it or not, remembering both is often easier than trying to memorize only the first name. One reinforces the other in your memory, and besides, sometimes the last name is easier to remember and will become a key for you to retrieve the first name.
- Have the students introduce themselves using one adjective with the same letter as their first name, such as Shy Shamika, Strong Sal, or Lively Larry.
- Write the name in a notebook, and then write a short description of the student. Define a code word for the student or provide a descriptive adjective starting with the same letter as the student’s name. If you forget a student’s name, try to picture the page in the notebook and visualize the written name.
- Associate the student with a famous person or relative with the same name. For example, Alex has a mischievous smile just like my nephew Alex. Tom is a real charmer, just like Tom Cruise.
- Imagine the child with his or her name written across the forehead.
- Work out a little code word or song title. If Rhonda is helpful in class, think about the song “Help Me, Rhonda.”
- If you see a past student in the hallways, be sure to greet her by name. That student will be honored that you remembered her name outside of class and will be a good ally for you the next time you sub in her classroom.
It’s best to use a combination of these tricks, but most important, you have to expend some effort. Learning your students’ names quickly and accurately takes work, but the rewards make the effort worthwhile.
Is it Possible to Remember the Names of a Whole Class in Just One Day?
Don’t expect too much from yourself. Try to remember three or four names per class, adding three or four more each day. Even if you know only a few names at the end of the first day, you’ve established a solid foundation and have made connections with some of the students.
Ironically, we tend to remember the names of challenging students first. I suppose that’s just a survival instinct among teachers! But don’t forget about the quiet child. Learn his or her name as well.
Learning your students’ names allows you to establish a quick connection with them. This can only help in establishing your credibility as a sub and will make classroom management much easier. To make learning names easier, follow these guidelines:
- Don’t rely on the seating chart in the sub folder without checking it first. It may be accurate, but it’s likely that the classroom teacher has changed seating assignments and not updated the chart. Verify the chart before you use it.
- Have the students (in lower grades) make name cards for their desks. It’s a good idea to have them decorate the cards with something they like. The decorations will help you to remember the names.
- Use one or more of the memorization tricks discussed in this chapter. Choose the trick(s) that best matches your personal style of learning.
- Recognize that you won’t know everyone’s name by the end of the first day. But learning even three or four names each day is a good start.
The investment of time you make to learn your students’ names will pay dividends in better classroom communication and improved classroom control.
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