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The beautiful simplicity of name tags on the first day of school

Wasted classroom time: it’s the bane of my existence, especially at the beginning of the year when I don’t know the students yet and they don’t know me. Just like most teachers, I want every minute of that first day of class to be devoted to some kind of learning activity to maximise students’ time and potential, thus setting the stage for a productive year. However, there are some annoying, time-consuming record keeping activities we must complete as responsible educators, such as taking attendance. Once we know our students’ names, this becomes a quick and virtually painless procedure, yet it can be tortuous and embarrassing for both students and teachers on the first day.

We have all had the cringe-worthy experience of completely butchering a student’s name. This can cause a plethora of potential problems: annoyance from that student, snickers from classmates, rumors that the teacher is illiterate… these should all be avoided as we strive to make a positive first impression and establish trust.

Furthermore, the roll call routine can eat up precious time in an often abbreviated first day schedule, especially with larger classes. Rather than publicly calling out names without guidance, it would be far smoother to meet each student one-on-one to learn about pronunciations and nicknames.

Still, we can’t avoid taking attendance at the beginning of class, as students often misread their schedules and end up in the wrong places. No educator wants learners to waste their time sitting in class for 30 minutes before realising that they’re supposed to be somewhere else. Not only would students have to surreptitiously slither away, but they could miss crucial information about the class for which they are actually enrolled. Furthermore, if we walked around to get to know each student at the beginning of class before giving any sort of opening preamble of classroom expectations or providing a meaningful learning activity, our classroom management strategy would leave much to be desired, and many students would take advantage of the situation.

So, how can we skip the tedium, awkwardness, and sluggishness of oral attendance while doing our duty to immediately ensure that the students sitting in our classroom are actually the students who are supposed to be there? If only all problems were so simple. It’s actually so easy that I mourn the loss of all those precious first day moments, which must add up to many, many hours over the years.

Name tags. Just name tags that I tape to the board in the front of the classroom. It’s that easy.

For each class, I simply write the students’ names on separate, folded paper or index cards and tape each name tag to the board. This can easily be done ahead of time; just separate each class into a group and label appropriately.

It’s not necessary to be fancy, but you can save time by printing your roster. As students file into the classroom, I instruct them to find their names. Even before the bell rings, I can ascertain if anyone does not belong; I check schedules and confirm that they are last-minute additions or point them in the direction of where they should be.

Zero class time wasted! Later on, after I have established some basic information about classroom expectations and provided an individual or group activity, I am free to circulate about the room and check in with students to learn how to say or abbreviate their names (which I always write down). As a person whose first and last names are frequently mispronounced, I know how important it is to get this right. By showing that I care about how to say their names, it’s a step in the right direction of creating mutual respect. Furthermore, it gives me a reason to make personal contact with every single student on the first day.

This method has additional benefits: I can swiftly determine which students are absent, as their names are still taped on the board. Also, since they now have name tags to place on their desks, I can call on students by name as early as the very first day and start connecting names to faces. After class, I simply ask students to return their name tags, and I have them pick these back up to place on their desks every day for the next week or so until I know everyone’s name.

Pre-made name tags: so quick and easy to make, yet so many rewards. I wish I had thought of this years ago!

Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar is an assistant professor in the Writing Department of Academic Enrichment at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. Sachar worked for fifteen years as a secondary English teacher in Delaware public schools.

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