Long ago, the register was a sacred document. Your first duty as a new teacher was to put a protective cover on it. You kept it immaculate inside too. You marked children present with a diagonal blue line, and you marked them absent with a red circle.
The lines had to go precisely from corner to corner (a friend once was reprimanded by the head for not hitting the corners properly). The diagonal slope of the lines alternated day by day so you got this pattern marching across the page. The circles had to precisely touch each of the four sides of its box. The whole document was a work of art.
If a child came late, after you had marked the register, it was almost easier to send him home again than risk the inquest that would follow an alteration.
Is it still like that? Well, the register has to be accurate. After all, it is a legal document: the definitive record of a child's presence in or absence from school. Aside from that, as neatness and order have become less important in life, the focus has shifted from the product to the process. It is not so much what your register looks like, more a matter of how you handle the registration session.
Register time - like morning assembly - is under pressure as teachers grow more anxious to get on with the real work covered in the curriculum. This, though, makes it all the more important to see the benefits that can be gained from the daily registration session.
For many children school is the place that provides stability and order. They are comforted by the familiar rituals of classroom life. Registration is one that comes early every day, is entirely non-threatening and involves each child in hearing his or her name spoken, with a smile, by the teacher. What more could anyone want on a dull Monday morning?
The basics of the task - confidently calling out names and receiving answers - have hardly changed in 100 or more years. The challenge for teachers is to take that starting point and provide some added value. You could, for example, sing the register.
Simply sing the child's name using the same number of notes as syllables. Either make up the tunes - easier than i sounds - or use simple tunes you already know. Here are some suggestions: Mary Smith, "Three Blind Mice", Stephen Johnson, the first four notes of the Big Ben chimes, Ramandeep Singh, "King of the Road", Rebecca McGonagall Anderson, "The Campbells are Coming, Hurrah! Hurrah!".
You get the idea. If you note the tunes in the register, you can use the same one each time. The child can then simply sing back "Here, Miss" on two self-chosen notes that fit well on the end of the name. Or you can get each child to sing his or her own name back to you in imitation of your tune.
This is straight aural training, in line with the national curriculum.
Another commonly used idea is to say the register in French ("Oui, Madame") or any other language. One teacher was observed doing the register in a different language for each day of a school inspection.
Children love teachers to play tricks in the register, too. Try inventing some non-existent class members: Sarah Jane Cakebread was one of my favourites. Then you pretend to be angry because she hasn't answered. Younger children hug themselves with delight at this sort of thing.
Older ones like it when you invent heroic class members. "Victoria Beckham? Are you here, Victoria? Turn round and pay attention, please!" The children begin to wait for the new names each day. It's not just a waste of time, it's a cheerful way to start the day and it holds attention.
Tone, mood, good humour, the way you speak to children, the fun you have with them - registration is a time for all of this, getting the day off in a positive way.
Perhaps more important is the social contact that develops as you go through the register: "Sam, how is your new baby sister?", "Avtar, is your gran back home yet?" Children will wait for this attention, too, and hope for a mention. The fact that it is a public, whole-class event encourages children to take an interest in each other. It all helps to cement the group.
Registration time is something that can be valued and protected. Make the most of it and don't feel rushed.
So, is your class always last to assembly? Relax, there is too much hurry in school anyway and the other classes can sit and stare at the head and listen to "Fingal's Cave" a little longer.