Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"I See My Name": To Know and to Be Known

It's the beginning of the semester, and I'm already struggling. Oh, I'm doing all right; I know my content, and I'm reasonably confident in my pedagogy, and I am as prepared as I can be. The struggle? Getting to know all my new students.

I teach Intro to Ed, which is a required survey course for all Education majors. If you come to Dordt College and major in Education, you'll take this course. I want to be clear: I love to teach this course; it is one of my favorites! But, because Education is one of our largest majors, I have a lot of students--about 80-100 each year, between the three sections that we offer. In the fall semester, I teach two sections of 32-35 students each. And here is the struggle: it's hard for me to get to know that many students when I only see them a couple hours a week.

When I was a middle school teacher, I had 40-60 new students every year, but it wasn't so hard to learn all those names. I think it was because I saw them every. single. day. and I was able to connect with them more quickly. With my college students, I only see them a couple times a week (actually, only once a week in Intro to Ed!) and so it takes me much, much longer to get all those names down cold. Last fall, I had most of them by the middle of the semester, but there were a handful of names that were elusive for me--five or six students whose names just wouldn't jump to mind for me.

And I hate that.

The ability to call on a student by name is not just valuable, I think it's essential for effective teaching. Teaching well involves building on a relationship with students. Is it possible to learn from someone you don't like? Probably. But I submit that students will learn more when they know their teachers, and are in turn known by them.

Being able to call on a student by name is evidence of the fact that you care about them, that you are investing in them. Being able to call on a student by name shows that you desire a relationship that is not cold and clinical and detached, but warm and welcoming and authentic.

Names are powerful that way.


This was recently made very, very real to me in an experience I had with a young boy at Royal Family Kids Camp, which is a camp for kids in the foster care system. (I've written several posts recently about my experience serving at Royal Family Kids Camp; you can read them here and here, if interested.) At Royal Family Kids Camp, we try to (literally!) roll out the red carpet for kids who have been wounded by adults in their lives, and treat them royally--showing them the love of Jesus--throughout the week we spend together.

I had the privilege/challenge this year of accompanying the campers on their ride to the camp facility. We were picked up by limousines, one for the girls and another for the boys. The boys and I, and a few other male staff members, piled aboard our limo. As we got rolling, the kids were predictably fascinated by all the accoutrements, and wanted to try everything and push the buttons, and turn on the music, and have a bottle of water from the fridge--you can imagine it, I bet?

A few minutes into our ride, they started to settle down. And there was a discernible difference in feeling on the limo; most all of the campers were anxious. Some kids had been to camp before, and were excitedly remembering what they had enjoyed last year, but may have been fearful about whether they would have the same kind of experience this year. Some kids had never been to camp, and were understandably tense with an apprehension of the unknown.

Some of the campers were visibly stressed. One young boy who was sitting next to me kept asking about when we were going to get there, what was going to happen when we got there, how he would know what to do. I did my best to reassure him that it was going to be great, but my words seemed hollow. He was worried.

As the limo turned into the driveway up to the camp facility, the energy began to rise again. The adults on the limo--knowing what was waiting for the campers when they arrived--started encouraging the boys to look ahead. What could they see?

There was a crowd of people lining the driveway, enthusiastically yelling greetings, cheering and welcoming the campers. And they were waving posters saying things like "Welcome to camp!" and "We're glad you're here!"

And then it happened:

The boy next to me--the one who had a million questions--was straining as he looked out the window, and suddenly froze.

And he said it so softly that I bet I am the only one who could hear it:

"I see my name."

Amidst the crowd of people cheering and yelling, he spotted something significant: he was identified by name.

Every camper's name was on one of those posters. The guides who would be working closely with the campers had signs identifying them, implicitly saying, "You belong here."

When the limos pulled to a stop, the campers were ready to burst out, but we asked them to wait for a moment. The red carpet was rolled out, the music was cued up, and one of the camp leaders got out the megaphone. The whole staff was gathered, waiting expectantly. And each camper was announced, by name. The guide holding a poster with that camper's name rushed to the front of the crowd, and the camper stepped out of the limousine to be greeted, while the gathered crowd cheered their arrival. Even the most apprehensive campers were beaming--they were known, they belonged, they were welcomed, they were surrounded by people who cared, they could tell this was a good place for them to be.

Images by Royal Family Kids of NW Iowa. [All Rights Reserved.]


Names are powerful. Calling a child by name is a gift. All of us desire to know and to be known.

Teachers, calling your students by name matters. Yes, it takes time and effort to learn them all.  But don't take this responsibility lightly, it is worth the investment of your time. To be known, by name, is a blessing you bestow upon your students.

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