Names, Interests and Identity

Earlier in the semester, Hayden posted a blog about the importance of learning students’ names in the school environment. As a regular volunteer at a local middle school, I have seen the impact that remembering a youth’s name has on creating a positive relationship with him or her. The impact of this simple act has ceased to amaze me time and again in working with youth. But, this is not just a skill that is important in working with youth – it is important at every age. I know in my own life, I am more apt to feel positively and welcomed by someone who remembers my name, especially if I haven’t seen them in at least a couple days. By remembering my name, the word that represents me, I am told that I am worth remembering, intriguing, valued and cared for enough to commit a new piece of information to memory.

In an article by the Washington Post, Joyce E. A. Russell, PhD, details how showing commitment to learning names and using them shows courtesy and recognition to someone. As she says, “A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality.” To not use this, is to say that the identity of the person with whom you are interacting with is not worthy of thought. Just think about the last time someone didn’t use your name (and you knew it was because they didn’t know it or care to know it). How did it make you feel?

In the school setting, the sooner a teacher learns his or her students’ names, the more quickly they will feel comfortable and accepted at school and will, in turn, enjoy being at school more. Education is about more than simply learning academic material. School is one of the first places and arguably, the most influential place, where we interact with non-family members. A teacher has the power to affirm youths’ identities and uniqueness through the power of using a word. However, knowing a child is not simply limited to knowing their name. Remembering that a child has a dog and asking about how Fido has been enjoying the nice weather or knowing that a kid loves to cook and making a lesson out of recipes speaks volumes to the their worth. This can happen at the start of a school year, the time in which students will be most surprised (pleasantly) with the knowledge of this information or continuous throughout the year.

Here is an article about creative ways teachers can commit names to memory, often involving the students. One of my personal favorite ways that gets students involved in the process of being recognized as an individual by their name and interests is making name cards by folding a piece of cardstock and having them write their name in a favorite color and decorating it with things that are important to them. This way students get to see their peers names, peers interests (and hopefully be able to make connections that will lead to comfort with new classmates), and in choosing how to represent themselves.

I would like to leave you with a personal experience of a teacher demonstrating care for me as more than just a pupil to educate, but a person with abilities and a personality. In the second grade, my teacher and decided on a unique superlative for each student in the class. I loved to draw and read. I would spend what felt like hours coloring with markers and sitting in the reading corner during free play time. When my name was called, I received the “Jan Brett Wanna Be Award.” (Jan Brett is a popular children’s book author and illustrator). I remember feeling like I was the best artist in the class and a great reader. I’m not sure that this was the case, but being recognized for doing the things that I loved made me feel so empowered. I had an even greater fervor with which I drew and read after that day. I am now a sophomore in college and still remember the paper award I received in front of maybe twenty classmates. As a child, you want someone to validate who you are and what you love. Teachers are given a great power to speak directly into this.

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