Carroll, Gregory, Dionne, Mario: When I was in fifth grade, my class roster included names that my teachers surely had seen before. Yet I can still recall the way they butchered mine. “Dionne” — pronounced Dee-OWN — had a least four variations that included Dee-On, Dye-Own, Day-On, and Dianne.
Whenever teachers mispronounced my name, it made me feel they had taken a shortcut and that the added step of learning the correct pronunciation wasn’t worth the effort. Which meant, to some degree, that I wasn’t worth the effort. I returned the favor by not participating in class or doing just enough to pass.
So I have always made remembering students’ names — and saying them correctly — a priority.
This hasn’t always been easy. When I was an English teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, the total student population was a little over 5,000. I had 150 students spread throughout my academic schedule and because I also served as advisor to the sophomore class, I saw another 30 in student government meetings. Because the school is so diverse, I also encountered many names that were new to me.
As a strategy, I would repeat names ad nauseum for the first few days of school to get my brain to go into reflex mode. One trick I used was to place students with the same name or beginning initial in the same seat during different periods. That worked like a charm for me every time.