by J J Cohen
Though I once accused Stephanie Trigg of purporting to have face blindness to snub those with whom she doesn't wish to speak, I must admit that when I took the prosopagnosia test to which she links in a post on the subject I flubbed the exercise: a "lucky" grade of 75%, and a lingering anxiety hangover (all the faces looked like various permutations of Shrek to me). No wonder I have such difficulty placing names to visages in the classroom.
I've attempted many ways of compensating over the years. I have each student create card about themselves with name, major, and (most importantly) a picture -- though that doesn't help as much as it sounds, since the picture is good only when it is directly in front of me (Also, snarky students will sometimes give me pictures of themselves dressed for the high school prom, or as a child ... or in one case 95% naked). I have students compose a paragraph about why they are taking the course and I hope that something sticks from the thing. But you know, after teaching more than a thousand students in my lifetime not a lot is sticking any more. Generally I don't remember students well until they come to my office and we chat: then I find the quirk, fact, or passion that will connect them to me and keep them in my memory -- at least for a while.
So, a practical question at this time of year when so many of us have just or are about to return to the classroom: what tricks do you use to remember the names of your students?
Not a lot of help forthcoming. It helps if the student has an unusual name, although when two students share the SAME unusual name, then I'm up a creek.
My theory course has three Catherines and two Josephs. My Comp Lit has two Ebonies. It's not as bad as the too many Jennifer or two many Emilys class, but it's getting there.
My trick? I get it wrong, A LOT, and often in highly embarrassing, persistent ways. As much as I can, though, I try to get a lot of conversation going the first day, and try to call on as many students as I can in 75 minutes. Generally by the end of the first day, I have at least half the students' names under control, especially when they tend--as they do--to sit in the same chair week after week.
The problem here are the students who refuse to talk. For them, it's a complete loss.
What's astonishing here is 1) that I pretty much could get no better than a gentleman's C in each prosopagnosia test; 2) that I forget students' names almost immediately after I turn in the grades. This has proved embarrassing, so far, on campus, in museums, on the street, and anywhere else one is likely to encounter a student in NYC.
Granted, I only have 12 students a semester, but I remember the names by forcing myself to go around the class and identify them. I picked this up from Professor Jim Powell at Wake Forest -- he would come into a class of 45 people (he was probably teaching 3 courses at the time) and go around the room. He always had everyone's name down on the second day.
Granted, we all sat in the same seats for the entire semester, so that probably helped.
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