Importance of using students’ names in class

When I tutor students, I get to know them quite a bit better than the ones I teach as part of a class. They open up to me about anything and everything, and sometimes this lets me understand them better. I learn from them, just by listening. A thing that came up during one of my tutoring sessions (with a girl named Erin) was the use of names. She was complaining that one of her teachers only used terms of endearment to her students, instead of their proper names. So instead of calling her Erin, she would say: “Sweetheart”, or “Dear”. Even though this was of the only complaint (that she could really verbalize) about her teacher, Erin could honestly say that she didn’t like her teacher. Why is it that this seemingly small thing bothered her so much?

My father always said that the use of names was extremely important, so just on this basis, I always try really hard to remember names, and use them as often as I possibly can, inside the classroom and out. At the beginning of the year, I learn all the students’ names (even if it’s 80 names) within a week. For the first few days, I really put in the effort, because once I have the names down pat, I have an easier time at questioning students and enforcing discipline in the classroom. Using a student’s name catches their attention instantly and gets them back on track. In this way, my lessons are more like conversations, a discussion among all the students, in order to get to the desired learning outcome. Without knowing and using these names, the discourse would be greatly impeded. My students usually feel very much at ease with me, and we have great conversations: I believe that using their names is the underlying reason of this mutual respect and fantastic relationship we develop over the school year.

Erin didn’t like her teacher because the teacher didn’t even bother to learn her name, and use it on a regular basis. Erin didn’t think that she was important enough for her teacher; she didn’t feel respected by her teacher. After all, anybody can be “Sweetheart” or “Dear”, but Erin is Erin. This is what her mother called her (with tenderness and love) since she was a small baby. “Erin” is, in a way, her identity, her uniqueness.

My name is very hard to learn for English speakers: Bogusia (this is a Polish name). When I went to school, people always had to take extra effort to learn it. But when a teacher finally learned it and called me by name, I was in heaven. This made me feel so special, so unique, so powerful, so respected. I therefore understand Erin, and her desire to be called by her proper name.

In his famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People“, Dale Carnegie writes: “If you want to win friends, make it a point to remember them. If you remember my name, you pay me a subtle compliment; you indicate that I have made an impression on you. Remember my name and you add to my feeling of importance.” This is exactly why we (teachers) should always learn our students’ names and use them often. I have a rule: Every day, I make at least one comment to each student in every class – using their dear-to-their-heart NAME.