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TA tales: what to do when names won’t stick

A teaching assistant explains why first-day nerves aren’t just for students

How to remember a class full of names

Here we are, relaxed, refreshed and ready. The shops have been banging on about “back to school” longer than I care to think about and now it’s here. And, in my case, it’s actually a brand new school. 

Having relocated to Dorset with my family, I find myself starting as a bank teaching assistant and, like our children (who are also starting at a new school), I am a bundle of nerves.

However, I have a strategy. I am armed with new stationery (labelled where possible), new comfy shoes,  a new bag (which I know from experience, will soon be replaced with a bag for life) and my trusty old backpack, I am ready.

I secretly crave the structure and routine after the long summer holiday. I want to get cracking with all the ideas I have put into my new Pinterest board but, before I can do anything, I must learn ALL the names!

Straight to TeachingName that teacher

I don’t know about you but the children’s names tend to be the easiest, what with seating plans and the occasional sticky label, but adult names…that’s a whole different ball game (and not one I am good at).

I often mishear names owing to not really paying attention and, because you don’t tend to see the adults in one place, at the same time each day, it’s hard to make appropriate associations.

This has only landed me in a tricky spot once. On my first day, I didn’t trip over or tuck my skirt into my pants – I did, however, make something of a faux pas in the name department.

I worked with a teacher who I now know to be called Mr Bracey. However, our first two days of working together were inset days where, of course, everyone uses their given names. 

Back in class, I was working with a group of children when he walked in to ask a question. Brain freeze took over but I knew I had to say something…and what came out of my mouth was, “Hello, Mr Tasty”.

I styled it out like a like a pro and, although we never spoke of my error, the name stuck and became his nickname for the rest of the year. To be honest, I’m not sure he did a great deal to subdue that – there are worse nicknames.

The memory game  

Since then, I’ve made a concerted effort to get names right. Or at least do a better job of covering it up when I get them wrong. Here are a few tips: 

When I’m not sure of a name and the children are present, I stick to ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’, so it’s in keeping with the salutation the children use. When with just a group of children, I leave a long pause and I find the kids can’t resist in filling it.

Think of an association with the surname: for example, Mrs Taylor (nice clothes), Mrs Long (really not tall)! But remember to keep it clean – you don't want to end up with your own Mr Tasty experience!

For children's names, draw out your own desk layout and complete with the child’s first name when the register is being taken – as this happens twice a day, it should only take a couple of drawings. 

You could offer to hand out the books but rope in a child to help under the proviso that it would be quicker with two.

If a name comes into your head but you are not convinced it belongs to a child, take the first letter from the name and say it out loud in an elongated fashion.

If the name still doesn't feel right, use the letter to think of an appropriate adjective for that child and use it in an affectionate way. If you are lucky, you can use it all year – Curious Carrie, Mathematical Matthew or Adventurous Abdullah.

Ultimately, if you are really struggling, just ask – no one is expected to know all the names straightaway.

Our TA tales come from a primary school teaching assistant living and working in Dorset

Straight to Teaching