I’m on a 6-child winning streak at the moment. Six successive children’s names I’ve got right. This is the longest winning streak I’ve managed since I’ve been here and (given that I’m affected, like many middle-aged men, with an absurd child-like competitiveness) I don’t want it to end. So I’m being very careful about who I talk to next.
As I write, I’m just ending my third week at CJS. There are 352 children here and I reckon I can confidently name about a quarter of them. Which is not bad I suppose after a relatively short period of time, but it’s not very good if you’re one of the 264 or so at whom I still stare blankly for a few seconds as my words trail away at the end of a sentence, and then feebly guess….Sophie? Ella? Ellie? Emily? Go on then I give up. Sorry Abbey (it’s always you isn’t it Abbey!) You see, while children are endlessly forgiving about all their teachers’ many foibles, they find it hard to understand how we can not know their names. Not only is a child’s view of their place in the world different to ours, unlike us (well, me anyway) they have razor-sharp memories and their heads are largely clear of all the clutter we carry around. So when I look at them and call them Callum when it’s actually Sam, they correct me the way you’d correct a toddler in a high chair who just threw his spoon on the floor for the hundredth time.
But it’s not just the children who are frustrated by my muddle-headedness. I find it intensely frustrating too. As a class teacher you very quickly learn the 30 or so names of the children in front of you and there’s no real pressure to know the names of children you never teach, although it’s nice to do so. My first headship was at a school with 90 or so children and it was quite easy to pick up their names, especially as they were spread over seven year groups, which tended to exaggerate the differences between them. My next school had around 240 children and that took a bit longer, but I got there. But now I find myself locked in an experiment to find out how high that number can go before I reach capacity. Inevitably you get to know some of them very quickly – usually for a very good reason or for a very bad reason. Then you get to know the children you have a chance to teach, or who like to come and make themselves known to you. But for everyone else, it simply takes time.
One thing I won’t do is blame all of you for giving many of the children the same names. Yes there are lots of Ellies and Graces, and Charlies and Alfies, but the children whose names I have learned include some of those. So that can’t be it. And anyway, I called my own children Jack, Hannah and Harry, which isn’t exactly stretching the lexicon, is it? No, it’s in my head, or not in my head to be more accurate.
And even if I do manage the achievement of knowing all 352 names, I still then have to move on to stage two (working out who all the brothers and sisters are) and stage three (matching the children to the parents. Some of you will have already experienced my blank look there).
Anyway, my winning streak is still alive and I’m looking forward to extending it further when I go for a look round everyone’s classrooms in a few minutes. At which point Lewis and Jayden have just knocked on my office door and I’ve called them Connor and Kieron. Back to square one…