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‘Three Top Tips from Tom’ will be updated weekly with the best advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management.

Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state school in Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour.

Oh, na na; what’s my name?

There’s a principal in some systems of magic, whereby a conjurer (by which I mean a real wizard, not some cabaret goon in a red velvet tuxedo) can summon a demon and exert complete control over them IF they have the demon’s name. Otherwise the result of the invocation would usually be strawberry jam all over your nice chalk pentacle, and a franchise of predictable slasher films. Now I’m wouldn’t dream of comparing the tender blossoms in your classroom to rabid diabolic engines of vice and cruelty, but there is a useful conceptual overlap: if you know the names of the kids you teach you’ll find it enormously easier to exert a positive influence over them than if they remain nameless, unknown quantities. New teachers know this with a clarity I can only describe as cold and crystalline, like breath in November night air. Their classrooms are crammed full of strangers in a strange land who, aware that for a short while they aren’t invisibly tagged by their identities, realise that they can caper and goon about with temerity. The public areas, of course, are worse, as identikit pupils dance away from your remonstrations, tantalisingly close, but effectively on the dark side of the Moon as far as following-up goes. You need to nail the names as quickly as possible. Here are three ways that can help.

  1. Actively remembering. Obviously this is a contrast to passively remembering, which is how we normally operate; we experience life in a wave, and it washes over us. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t. If you’re simply encountering students in a random, undirected way, then you’ll usually learn the naughty kids first, the keen kids second, and the quiet kids somewhere approaching the End of Time. So make remembering active: every time you meet a student and have a significant exchange, say their name out loud. At this point, most people go to autopilot and the name melts like ice in a furnace, instantly. Concentrate on the name; say it as you look the student in the eyes, and match it to their face.
  2. Using mnemonics. We remember things far more easily when we associate them with other things, and make the memory part of a larger chain of memories- I always think of it as making the memory larger, and easier to spot in your mental filing cabinet (cognitivists, shoot me, I know). So when they say their name, or when you look at a kid and try to identify them, associate them with another image, sound, smell, or anything that makes them stick out. Talking to a tall, skinny chap? Does he look a bit like a scarecrow? Is he called Danny? Imagine a scarecrow with his face, in a field, reading the Da Vinci Code (*heave*). That makes me think of Dan Brown; you’ll find your own associations that stick. Get creative. The more unusual/ repellent/ vivid the association, the more memorable it becomes.
  3. Use formal strategies to help you. I’m #1 Fan of seating plans, because that’s the quickest way to getting to know them, plus it’s an invaluable behaviour strategy in its own right. Your school might have mugshots (I use my words carefully here) on the system that you can access- these are a great way to track down unfamiliar faces. And also don’t forget that we work together in schools, not alone; we also play the long game, so if a kid needs some tough love from you, but you don’t have the name, then no problem. Fix the face in your memory, note the scenario in your planner, and then the next time you see them, ask the nearest teacher for a namecheck. Tenacity will pay off where recognition fails. And the pupil will never forget that you wouldn’t let it go…

If you ever see me again, you never saw me before.


Read more from Tom on our behaviour forum or on his blog or Twitter

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