“Ok, it’s 9:25. Who wants to do the Land Acknowledgement?”
Around the classroom, grade 12 students shift in their seats. No one meets my eye. A few more kids slip in and find spots while I wait. Eventually, someone raises their hand. They choose to read the printed acknowledgement out loud rather than offer their own. We review the meaning of “stewardship” and then it’s time for a quick book talk – Their Eyes Were Watching God – but before we shift into independent reading, A says, “Wait! We have to do names.”
Students begin to chuckle. “Right!” I smack my forehead dramatically, “Names. Surely we can do better than yesterday?” Yesterday was a disaster – it took three tries before anyone could name everyone and apparently no one – including me – was pronouncing one student’s name correctly. (And this after I had practiced!) Eventually she gave up on us, even though we really were trying. Today goes a little better. We get through everyone twice before we move to reading.
Y’all. It is mid-March. And yes, we are a semestered school, and yes the beginning of this term was riddled with weather days, but we’ve still been together as a class for six weeks. I try to say students’ names all the time (mostly because I think it’s polite and friendly, but also because it’s a research-supported way to give people a sense of belonging and increase engagement), but lately (ok, yes, post-pandemic) it seems like quite a few students don’t bother to learn the names of their peers unless they were already friends before the class started. I’m not ok with that.
I have checked in with the teenager in my home; he admits to only knowing some of the names of his classmates. In fact, he is perplexed by my question. “They don’t usually make us work with other people,” he says. When I ask, “But how do you meet people?” because he is in grade 9 and therefore at a new school and therefore has made new friends, he says, “I already have a group of friends I’m happy with” then gives me a look and goes back to his phone. I push and ask how he met his new friends this year, but he only grunts at me. Minutes later he looks up and says, “that’s actually a good question,” but he doesn’t have an answer.
Unfortunately for my students, I’ve come back from March Break with a fire in my belly: I’m determined to help them connect – and if they can’t or won’t or don’t want to connect, I’m determined to at least give them practice in the skills they will need to do this later on. Yesterday, I told them about this article that argues that we should not allow cellphones in school *and* that we need to “rewire classrooms for connectedness.” So I’ve asked students to keep their phones away and I’m insisting we learn each other’s names. I get the sense that some of them think that this is cute but ultimately useless, but so far no one has said no.
Today, once it seems like many people know most names, I tell the students about the next step in my scheme: I want them to learn something about the other people in the class. In the front row, the same student who had reminded me that we needed to practice names, shakes his head as he opens his book. “Good luck, Miss,” he sighs. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need it.