My head knows the names of all the pupils at our school but I struggle to remember my Year 9 groups. Any hints?
Welcome to the large club of teachers who teach pupils called "Thingy" and "Whatsit". There is an art to learning names and it is worth the effort, even if you teach several classes. Research repeatedly shows that children appreciate teachers who treat them as individuals, rather than as members of a herd. Ignorance is particularly embarrassing at a parents' evening ("Er, is Tom the ginger lad with glasses who sits at the back?") when you are talking to people with only one name in their head.
You should make a particularly big effort at the beginning of the year, when everyone is new. Some teachers apologise in advance and get their classes to help: "I'm not brilliant at remembering names, but I'm determined to get yours right, so tell me if I get it wrong." At regular stages of the year, go through your class register and see which names you can put a face to, and which seem a mystery. Then ask yourself why you get these results.
The badly behaved and those eager to answer questions often impress themselves on your memory at an early stage. The ones you cannot identify so easily may simply be the ones who get on with their work: never in the way, but never out of it. Note down the names you don't really know and then make a point of talking to the children individually in your next few lessons.
Beware of some of the memory tricks, such as making up fictitious or jokey names, such as "Fred Flintstone", "Beryl the Peril", or "Spotty". Under pressure you might actually use them out loud - to everyone's embarrassment.
Time breeds familiarity
A combination of some or all of the following is sure to work. Make sure your pupils give their names every time they speak for the first few times, then ask them to wait while you try and guess it. Get them to sit in the same place for the first few sessions and annotate your register with their individual features beside their names. You could also try learning all their names beforehand from a list; it's then easy to fit faces to names.
Finally, try making name cards and putting them in front of the pupils until you know them.
Barry Langan, Bath
Stick to a seating plan
I always produce a computerised seating plan for each class and print out several copies. You can have one on the desk in front of you while teaching, and one in your hand while giving out exercise books. This means that you can quickly check a pupil's name and that you can leave a copy of your seating plan for any cover teacher. He or she will be grateful to know who sits where.
Ruth Hall, Milton Keynes
Labels will help you pin them down
Remembering hundreds of pupils' names is a daunting task, especially when you have two or three Jacks and Kellys on your register. At the start of a new academic year I give a piece of A4 paper to the younger pupils which they fold to make a name stand to put on their desk. I ask them to bring it to each of their lessons with me; usually after a week or so I can call each by their name. Otherwise, you could buy some sticky labels and ask them to write their name on it and stick it on their clothes.
Nathalie Quigley, email
Throw away your crutches
Name badges and a prompt sheet are to some extent "crutches" that may just prevent you from actually learning the names of your pupils. Besides, the name badges will become quickly discarded - or worse still, swapped! So, there is no real substitute for actually learning the kids' names; it's one of the things that makes you different from a supply teacher. Accepting this, the next step is to devise a way of learning - committing to memory - that works for you.
Rod Pow, London