The Day My Students Applauded

**Disclaimer: the title of my post probably implies much more awesomeness than you are about to encounter. But I still think it’s pretty awesome.**

On the second day of classes this semester, I decided to try a fairly tried-and-true technique for learning my students’ names. It’s the method where you start at one point in the classroom and learn a name, then you go around and keep adding names one a time, doubling back and repeating each name as you add it. So, it goes something like this: “John. John, James. John, James, Lucy.” And so on. Eventually, you have to remember 22 (or whatever number of) names, and it can get pretty funny when you bumble. This makes it a great activity, because while the act of repetition is generally really helpful for learning names, you also don’t have to worry about messing up because it’s entertaining when you do. Win-win.

In my first class, the activity went well. There were a few funny moments, and the class seemed genuinely interested in the fact that I was giving this a whirl. In the second class, it was even more interesting because when I finally got through all 22 names (successfully, I might add!), one of my students challenged me to repeat all the names in reverse order. There were some chuckles from the rest of the class at this suggestion, but I readily agreed. When I completed the task successfully, the students burst into a spontaneous round of applause (and I, of course, bowed graciously). We all enjoyed a little chuckle and then went on to our next activity: viewing Stephen Fry’s essay on “Language.” (If you haven’t watched this video, I highly recommend doing so.)

Of course, my first reaction to this fun bit of my day was this:

(…and yes, this is a fairly accurate representation of my celebratory dance.)

…because, who wouldn’t feel celebratory after some applause? But later, as I pondered the day a little more thoroughly, I began to wonder why genuine interest and spontaneous applause were my students’ reactions to this name-learning activity. I realize that there could be a number of reasons, but I think one key reason is the fact that I was genuinely taking the time to get to know my students. Over the years, several of my students have expressed that I am one of the few professors who knows their names. At a large university, I think it’s pretty common for a lot of students to feel like they’re only known by their student ID numbers, which I imagine can be disappointing. By engaging in this activity – and explicitly telling them my reasons for doing so – I demonstrated that I care enough to get to know each student as an individual. I want to know their names, and match their faces with their names. To me, each student is much more than his or her student ID number.

I realize there are some students who would prefer to sneak in the back of the classroom and remain relatively anonymous, but I would be willing to bet that many undergraduates would be comforted knowing their professors genuinely care about them. I genuinely care about my students’ success. I want to get to know a little bit about them, and I want them to feel comfortable enough to approach me when they are having trouble. Though I have many, many improvements to make to myself as a teacher, this is always my top priority.

So, what about you? How have you demonstrated care for your students in the classroom? Please share your stories in the comments below.


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