It’s almost time for school to start back and teachers everywhere will be scrambling to learn a new set of names. Yes, I know that school has already begun in one of our nation’s districts, but I will stick by my original statement. It’s almost actually time for it.
But we were talking about names. Learning to place faces with names has always been an arduous task for most teachers. Some of us tried to learn the names of our upcoming students by comparing yearbook pictures with class rolls over the summer. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Kids change a lot between school terms — or at least they used to when we had summers off. Plus, sometimes you didn’t get your rolls until pre-planning and sometimes yearbooks weren’t available. And sometimes there was just too much fun to be had during the summer to worry about learning names. At any rate, doing so was always a challenge.
Early on in my career I found it much easier to put names with faces and usually had them down pat in a week or so. There are still people I taught during the last couple of years of my career whose names I am not certain of, but please don’t tell old what’s-his-name that I said that. I would hate to hurt his feelings.
And it is not personal. I can still close my eyes and see the faces — and list the names — of my first class on my first day at Cousins Middle School. There was Greg Cowan, Emmett Nolley, Homer Baumgartner, Florene Hurst, Salena Roseberry, Shirley Hardeman, Tony Horton, Walter Cowan and on and on and on. The people I taught last year were just as important to me, my brain just doesn’t work like it once did.
Of course names got tougher when folks started just stringing consonants and vowels together and creating names out of thin air, too — but that’s another story for another day. Save your complaints. You know it’s true.
I learned early on not to ever comment on a person’s name, because, to begin with, none of us chose our own. I named one of my own children after a Boy Scout camp and another after two Confederate generals, so I should talk, right? But the first day I entered the classroom as a long-term substitute, at Newton High, I made an enemy for life when I commented on a student’s name.
It was “Kent Clarke.” I ain’t making this up, y’all. It was. Having been a huge Superman fan all my life I could have no more kept from commenting on the poor guy’s name than if he had been called Jimmy Olsen or Lex Luthor. He didn’t appreciate my pointing out to him what had obviously been pointed out to him hundreds of times before, however, and I seldom, if ever, commented on the quirks of parental nomenclature again. But boy did I want to.
I had a student named Holly Berry once. Yes, I did. I promise. That was two decades before the current actress and former fashion model appeared on the scene, too. I also had a student named Holly Wood. She was blonde and smart and claimed she was going to make a living there one day, but I think she opted for a different career — like astrophysics or something. But that was her name.
No, I never taught a girl named Merry Christmas — or even Mary Christmas — but I did have a Holly Berry and a Holly Wood.
I never taught him, but there was an Isaac Newton at Heritage recently. I mean recently enough that he probably will have this column e-mailed to him by his friends before nightfall. Like I said, I never taught him but enjoyed hearing his name called out over the intercom every now and then. If my last name were Newton, I probably would have named my son Isaac, too. I would have called him “Fig” though.
My buddy, Mike Chonko, named his sons Brandon and Nick, but he told all of his students that their names were Buck and Bronco. I think most of the kids believed him, too. Chonko left us way too soon. I still miss him, but Buck and his brother are still around. I think one of them is a teacher and coach and will be learning a whole new set of names himself soon.
I recently read in an educational journal that teachers — who are human, by the way — tend to have lower expectations for students with unusual or trendy names, and higher expectations for students with traditional names. The reason that is significant, according to the study, is that students actually have a tendency to live up to — or down to — expectations. Keep that in mind the next time you choose a name for yourself or your loved one.
I only have one name to learn this year. It is the name of my new grandson, Henley Walker Fairchild, who should be here any day now. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted. And to all my teacher friends — good luck learning those names next week.