They come in fresh, clean and with perfect costuming. The first day of school I see the faces, the colors, the races, the sizes, style and their best social defense mechanisms. I have no idea who they are, how they think, where they live and with whom. Are they happy, loved, and supported at home? What is their intelligence level? Will they study? Will they try? I start every year looking at these kids and thinking these thoughts- excited, apprehensive- always fearful, in the respectful kind of way.
“Some of you may really enjoy this class, and me. Others may hate me- but I promise you this, keep on coming, keep your mind and heart open, and by the end of the year, everything will be good.” And that is the truth. Now, about all of those names!
Learning names is hard. Last year I had over 170 students at the peak- that number was whittled down to 154. So I look out at the classes and try to attach names to the faces. I have tried signs, games, poems. One year a student said to me, “You still don’t know my name do you? It has been 2 months! Hey everyone, she doesn’t know our names!” I was caught. I didn’t. We had to talk. It was like we were conversing at dinner, only the focus was names. I often wonder if I have signs of Alzheimers…why am I slow to learn my 150 something student’s names? BECAUSE THERE ARE 150 NAMES!
Now, I pass out papers and call the names and put the writing to the faces. It works for me. It takes a few weeks of papers, but I have been successful with this exercise. Just last week a student was walking in the class and I said hello. “You don’t know my name do you?” I came clean fast, “No.” He seemed hurt. I didn’t mean to hurt him! But, after that moment, I know his name- for now.
The funny thing about names is that once I have them all in my memory bank they are solid deposits until the last day of school. Within a matter of moments of that last bell the school year becomes the past. And so it goes with the names of all my students. I lose them fast. After a while I can remember the grades they made, the way they wrote, the folder they carried- but the name eludes me! Walmart is where America shops, and many of my past students. I seem to run into them there a lot. Some have babies, and spouses or a whole new look! I carry on and show my happiness at seeing them all the while hoping they don’t ask..”Do you remember my name?” I have gotten the question, “Do you remember me?” YES I DO!!! (You name again please!)
During my first marriage I witnessed my husband’s ability to draw and paint portraits. He was talented. When he tried to draw me he just could not do it- he said he didn’t see my face when he looked at me- he saw more than that. AWWWW! I know what he means- the first day of school I see the white kids, the African Americans, the Hispanics, the skinny kids and the fat ones. I see the little hoodlums, the preps, the jocks, the goths. The months pass, I see James, Sarah, Jasmine, Trevor et all. I literally do not see the color or size- I see them. That is one of the awesome parts about teaching, getting to know all those souls.
Once in a particularly mixed race class I was making this exact point about people and race. All of my students had gathered around me and we were having a moment. They were nodding in agreement, yeah, they understood that they see their friends and knew what I meant by the word see. So I pointed at them one by one. “I see you Jasmine; I see you Gloria; I see you Juan; and you…. Cameron….no, your black!” The room went wild. All of the kids laughed so hard it was chaotic for a few minutes. One kid was rolling on the floor. Cameron was crying with laughter. He was from Africa and very dark, and one of the most handsome young men in the school. Everyone got the joke I just couldn’t resist making. I was going to say, “I see you Cameron.” But when that beautiful young man, so dark with his dreadlocks looked at me with that extra white smile- I just went the way of the laugh.
Cameron stayed after class and told me what I did was cool, it was alright. He said, “I see you Ms. Kerley.”