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  • Writer's picturetovahstutoringcomp

The importance of learning student names

Teachers either teach subjects or teach individuals. If you are considering the path of teaching individuals, then one massive tip I could give you is to learn your students' names.

It is so important to learn your students' names. Allow me to elaborate...

Here are three key points to consider:

1. As soon as you know their name, the process of trusting you begins

If you go to a supermarket every week and the same teller serves you, you smile and talk about your day, and it'll feel frivolous. However, if you take the time to learn their name and every time you go into the store you say, "Hi Martha, how's your week been?" Eventually you will find you both are happy to see each other every time you come in contact, as you have created a positive relationship with someone in your life. This same idea happens when you learn your students' names. They go from being a stranger, to someone familiar.

I often sit there wondering whether it would be rude to correct them or endure a lifetime of having my name spelled wrong. This is how students feel.

2. Correct pronunciation and spelling is validating

Cultural names have meanings. They are usually given as a way of celebrating something that matters in their lives, or they believe their child represents or reminds them of something - so they will name their child it. The thing about different languages is that if you change the word (e.g., shortening the name of the child) you are no longer calling them the name their parent(s) have given them.

Furthermore, if you say their name incorrectly, you are taking a step backwards with developing a positive relationship with them. Instead of making them feel safe and validated, they will instead feel like you don't care about them.

If you take the time to learn how to say a name after many people have said it incorrectly, the student will feel relieved and special.

I know this because I have a unique name. My last name (both maiden and married name) has unique spelling, and when someone spells my name wrong, I often sit there wondering whether it would be rude to correct them or endure a lifetime of having my name spelled wrong. This is how students feel. They want to be known for who they really are. Anything that is incorrect, tells their subconscious that they are being addressed as someone else.

The same thing applies with pronunciation. With my first name, it wasn't until my name was heard on the news several times with a reporter with the same name (different spelling) that people would say my name correctly. I used to be called too-var, tov-ar, too-vay and any other variation of my name except my actual name. When I did hear it, I would always acknowledge the person for saying it correctly.

But names are so much more than just a way in which people can identify one person from another, they are a part of what defines us.

I remember teaching a wonderful student who I built a great relationship with, and I knew her for about 3 years. One day she said a speech on stage, and when she began her speech, she introduced herself - however, when she said her last name, it wasn't the name I had been calling her for THREE YEARS! I felt terrible. Absolutely terrible. I asked her as soon as I saw her next why she hadn't corrected me. She said that she was going to but then eventually she felt silly as it was "too late" and she didn't want me to feel bad. This is something incredibly important. People with unique names care about not only their own embarrassment, but others. So, they do things that are more convenient for the other person, and this brings me to my next point:

Remembering them is also very important. When I work in primary schools, I have a rotation of the whole school, so common practice for me is learning the entire school's names in under a month. If I don't know them then I can't compliment them completely or tell them to directly stop talking. Learning their names as soon as I can, helps me teach effectively. But more importantly, it begins relationships with them. I remember learning a girl's name straight away. I knew it all term and right at the end of the term we were playing a game called "Bang" and I said to that same girl standing next to me, "I'm sorry I can't for the life of me remember your name right now. I'm so sorry, but what is it again?" When she told me, I said, "I'm so sorry [girl's name]. I normally know it. I had just forgotten." I'll never forget her face dropping, the moment I asked, because I knew she loved my class and loved having me as her teacher. She even deliberately stood next to me because she wanted to verse me in the game. We had little jokes we'd share with one another, and she was thriving in my class, but in that brief moment, she didn't feel like that was real anymore. This is why it is important to make sure students feel important and visible through your eyes.

3. Nicknames should be used to build relationships, not to convenience others

Many students will alter their name to avoid the embarrassment of having their name pronounced incorrectly. In some cases, other students will tease a student because their teacher has said their name incorrectly. So, in order to stop that from happening, they abbreviate or shorten their names. For instance, one child may be named Te Pounamu. They tell you their full name and then when you try to repeat it, they might say to you "Don't worry, teachers just call me TP. Just call me that."

If I heard that, and sometimes I do, it would sadden me. Not only does it suggest their name is too complicated to know, but the student also implies that it is a hindrance on the teacher to have to spend time learning their name. But names are so much more than just a way in which people can identify one person from another, they are a part of what defines us. My husband made a very valid point to me once where he said, "things don't exist until you name them". Although this can be relevant to our fears, it can also apply to the way we get to know each other and build relationships.

Spend the time getting to know your students' names. Say them correctly and spell them correctly.

I always find putting myself in other people's shoes always makes me have perception and a better understanding of the world and others. And because of it, I am a well-rounded person.

Be the person you would have wanted as a teacher when you were at school.

Time, Experience, Manaakitanga.

Tovah O'Neill

Tovah's Tutoring Company Ltd


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