I have been back at work for a week now and, despite being distracted by training and planning, all I really want to know is who will be walking through my classroom door in two weeks’ time.
Meeting new students is my favourite part of the year. I’m not bad at learning names, I can usually get away with adding the first initial of their last name when dealing with multiples, of which there are many. Or I can have, for example, level 2 Chloe and level 3 Chloe. Last year, I had two Ethan Cs in the same class, which was more problematic. In music you can have drum Nathan and bass Nathan, which is even better.
As students start to enrol and show up in our database, I like to go in and do my own little investigations. Is a student coming from quite far away? Did they originally enrol under a typically female name and have now changed it to a typically male name? Have they declared a disability or a learning need? I can look it this data and get in touch before they start just to say hi and make sure they’re coming into college knowing at least one person’s name. This year, we have a transition project, which is great. I get a whole extra week of student facing to break up the admin.
From the classroom: Is your wardrobe ready for the new term to start
I try not to look at the feeder school, partly because I don’t live where I teach and don’t know the schools that well, and partly because there are some schools which I do know the name of because they have reputations. I make sure they all know, if my accent doesn’t give it away, that I have no preconceptions of where they live and where they went to school, and I think that is quite a relief for some of them. It’s a fresh start and a clueless teacher, who doesn’t know if they came from a posh fee-payer or somewhere with bars on the windows and its own security guard.
You can also tell quite a bit from the text field on their application, which says why they want to study the course they’re on. Some will wax lyrical about their love of the subject, their volunteering experience and their likes and dislikes. Others write “I like photos”. Both are welcome, I might keep an eye on the written work of one of them.
YouTube has done an amazing job of allowing teachers to get ahead of the game on name pronunciation, too. Irish names, Nigerian names, Punjabi names, there are videos for all of them to try to avoid that moment when you have to repeat someone’s name five or six times. And the look of joy when you get it right first time can be a great morale booster. I remember an Indian teacher I worked with a few years ago replaying a video over and over to get to grips with Aoife. I’d like to be able to tell you that the student returned the favour but instead she copped out and called her teacher “Miss” all year.
I do like being called “Miss” for a week or so at the start of the year, and I never correct students in front of the class – I find it quite sweet. Once a student came into the office looking for me but didn’t know my name and just asked for "Miss". When questioned further, he said: “You know, Little Miss.” And then I received three Little Miss books (by Roger Hargreaves) from colleagues to whom I no longer speak.
Whoever comes through the door this year will have had no exams and little face-to-face teaching for two years, so I’m hoping we can all give each other a break. In the meantime I will be working out how to distinguish between five Tom Ls.