Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces, often referred to as face blindness. But is there a similar category for those who have an inability to remember students names? Other than just suffering from a very bad memory.

Some days, I think I must be the world’s worst teacher. No, it isn’t that I cannot put a lesson together, or that I don’t know how to run a classroom. And my students even tell me that they learn something most days! So, where is it that my main failing lies? What do I struggle with as an experienced teacher of more than 20 years?

I am shockingly bad at remembering names! I am not kidding, I will go someway into the year before I can remember the names of the students in my classes. And seriously have little hope of remembering any of the others in the school. Yet, knowing your students names is a key way for building connections, developing relationships.

Week 8, Term 1

It is week 8 of term, and I have set myself the task of remembering the names of my students.

Granted I started this in week 1. And granted that I have some 190 students in 9 classes to remember. And granted I see these same students in different classrooms, sometimes only a couple of times a week. But surely, surely, surely, I would remember their names by now.

Of course, the ones you always remember are those that have problems, or that might test the waters of a new teacher. Yes, we all have them, we know who they are! And seriously, I remember those, usually on the first day! Because, as all teachers can attest, there is power in remembering a name. NOT of course that teachers are about power! But besides building relationships, knowing a students’ name is a powerful tool.

For, let’s face it, there is a certain lack of authority about a question hesitantly thrown into the direction of an unwilling 14-year-old (whose name you cannot for the life of you recall), “Can you please read your response?” This is generally followed by a pause and a series blank looks, eye-contact avoidance, and the inevitably charade of, “Who me? Were you talking to me Miss?” And finally, 5 minutes later, a grudging compliance … ! Argh – just give me a name!

4 memory strategies

There are several great strategies that you can use to help you remember things, such as the names of the students in your classes. I have a few favorites, which in the past have stood me in good stead, and have many times recommended to beginning teachers.

  1. Photos – these are great. Individual student photos, when they are fresh and have just been taken, are a great tool. But when they are from the previous year, and your students have changed how they looked? Let’s face it, they are a year older!
  2. Rehearsal – constantly practicing their names, in my head or out loud. I do this by reading the role, and then immediately using the names. Targeting a couple of students each day, and then quietly practicing the others. Be careful of this one though. After a few weeks, students are beginning to get a sense that you might still be faking it.
  3. Using mnemonic devices – such as creating an unofficial seating chart in my head. Students are creatures of habit and mostly sit in the same seat. So, remembering their names can be relatively easy. I just must remember them in the order of their seating. Until they move around and then I am calling Angela, Betty and James, Michael.
  4. Other people successfully use a memory framework, such as going on a holiday and packing a suitcase to remember things in order. Creating a map (a bit like a seating plan), walking your favorite bush walk, but rather than using place use a characteristic of the student and relate it to a place in your head.

I have not had much success with the last strategy. Either my head does not work that way. Or the fact that my students are all in their uniform, and with their hair tied back, start to look very similar to each other, so finding a ‘defining feature/characteristic’ can be difficult. Or maybe it is just that not only do these students look alike, but over the years, they all start to merge into each other.

So how am I going to sort this conundrum? I must rely on time and their emerging personalities before I can make a clear call for um… Susan?

What’s in a name?
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