Hey, you at the back

20th September 2013 at 01:00

This term I'm determined to learn my students' names. Usually I stumble my way through the first few months knowing only the bizarre ones. I remember the Lionhearts, Summers and Indigos but at the expense of the poor Charlottes and Johns. (Note to any prospective parents: if you want your children to get good results call them Perineum, Rock Cake or Banana; it might raise a few eyebrows but at least their teachers will remember who they are.)

Learning students' names is a vital part of behaviour management yet it's the bit I struggle with most. Since I can't remember where I've parked my car, putting names to a hundred new faces is way beyond me. Names are important. When a teacher uses a student's name it creates a contractual obligation: "I know who you are, you matter to me and this is what I expect."

It's when we don't use names that problems occur. It's no coincidence that the vindictive trolling on Ask.fm that was linked to the tragic suicides of 14-year-old Hannah Smith and others was done anonymously. One of humanity's less attractive traits is that, when we think no one can see us, we do some terrible things. Partly it's to do with how desensitised we're becoming - when you have spent your childhood drowning Sims in swimming pools or shooting prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto games, telling another website user that they would be better off dead probably seems like an act of kindness.

And partly it's to do with the fact that we think we'll never get caught. On Twitter, even the sourdough-scoffing middle classes hide behind smug avatars while launching vituperative personal attacks against politicians, minor celebrities or people wearing tank tops on television. Familiarity may breed contempt but anonymity spawns much worse.

Psychologists have conducted experiments showing that even "illusory anonymity" - wearing dark glasses or sitting in a darkened room - decreases our inhibitions to the extent that people in the dark behave more dishonestly than those under a fluorescent glare.

When we think our sins won't find us out, our morality goes into hiding. I experienced this first-hand this summer at a London show. Audiences for Punchdrunk's immersive production The Drowned Man: a Hollywood fable are given masks on arrival and invited to wander unchaperoned through the dimly lit performance space. The combination of dusky lighting, throbbing soundtrack and plastic masks has proved too much for some audience members, who have been caught having sex, pinching props and urinating on the set.

Anonymity is anathema to good behaviour. So rather than blagging my way to Christmas by shouting "You with the Pokemon fringe" or "Girl by the third window back", I'm going to learn everyone's names. Because calling a Rose by any other name might make her steal my seat.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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