The article I love to mention most when it comes to teaching is Making Visible the Behaviors that Influence Learning Environment: A Qualitative Exploration of Computer Science Classrooms by Barker and Garvin-Doxas. Anyone who talks to me for more than about five minutes about teaching computer science will invariably be forced to listen to me talk about its merits, and if you haven’t read it you should immediately click the link and at least read the first few pages.

One of the positive instructor behaviors they mention is learning and using student names, something I’ve always tried to do but do even more diligently after I read their research. I typically start learning names in earnest during the second week of the quarter, and this year one interesting thing stood out to me: students are reluctant to provide you with their preferred name. On Wednesday I showed up early to both my classes and walked around with the roster of pictures learning names and checking people off as having attended. When I did that I also asked them whether the first name on the roster is what they liked to be called. In multiple cases I had to insist on learning what abbreviation for that name they preferred, or in one interesting case, that the student typically uses his (short) last name. And when I say insist, I mean it. I often had to have a 30 second discussion with them to get them to say what they like to be called. They would often start that discussion by saying “whatever is easiest for you.” I would react in horror, saying that it’s their name, and that I want to get it right. After sufficient insistence they would then relent. The discussion was aided by the fact that I don’t go by my first name, so when they would be really reluctant I would discuss how annoying it had been to me all my life to be called by the wrong name. That persuaded the most stubborn ones to give me the information I wanted. I’ll note that this isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience, although I’ve never had this many be so reluctant.

What I don’t completely understand is the source of this reluctance. Are they so used to being called by the wrong thing that it no longer matters to them? Do they not want me to get to know them sufficiently well that using the wrong name would make a difference? Is being called by the name their friends/family use just too familiar for a classroom? I just don’t have a satisfactory answer for this.

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