Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Knowing Their Names
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Slice of Life: Knowing Their Names


“I want to thank my husband who, for all the years I have been teaching, has always known the names of each of my students.” Mary Ellen Caesar

We had the privilege to attend the Cape Cod Council’s Annual Spring Banquet last week.  Mary Ellen Caesar was honored at the event and during her speech she shared these words.  We were struck by the power behind these words.  To us, these words represent the power of formative assessment.

When our students’ stories come home with us, when we care enough to carry their stories, we know we are focusing on the reader behind the number.  Our students need to be more than a letter, a number or a level.  We need to use assessment to find their story, to understand them and connect with them.  When our families know the names of our students we know we are thinking about them and connecting with them as humans.  This is what makes a great teacher.

Research demonstrates the importance of connection with achievement.  When one looks at the research literature across the different fields of inquiry, three school characteristics stand out as helping young people feel connected to school while simultaneously encouraging student achievement: (1) high academic standards coupled with strong teacher support; (2) an environment in which adult and student relationships are positive and respectful; and (3) a physically and emotionally safe school environment. (Blum, 2005)

In an era when assessment is causing so much debate, we need to remember the positive side of assessment.  When we take the time to connect, encourage, and set high expectations we are assessing.  We have the power redefine assessment and put it in perspective.  If we give more value to formal, quantitative, summative assessment it will be valued more.  If we use it to triangulate our data, as just another data point among many data points, we put it in perspective.  We hope the families of every teacher know the names of her students… that is connection that will touch the lives of our students and impact their achievement.  It begins with knowing their names and their stories.



  • Avatar
    Erika Victor
    Posted at 11:25h, 24 May Reply

    What a nice testimony! You are right! Thanks for reminding us. Tomorrow is my son’s birthday in Arkansas (I live in Kuala Lumpur) and one of my students said, “Let’s Skype Curtis and wish him a happy birthday!” I love that they feel connected to him, as I know he feels my connection to my students.

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    Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 11:27h, 24 May Reply

    So true. I remember once telling a class, “I was thinking about this class last night…” and a student piped up, “You think about us when you’re not in school?” He was shocked that a teacher would think about school and students after hours. Of course, this was high school, so he knew I didn’t live in the closet!

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    Linda Baie
    Posted at 12:20h, 24 May Reply

    How wonderful that you took this teacher’s words and showed its importance in a teacher’s world. It reminds me of the song “We Are Family”, an aspect of being a teacher that might be good to share with new teachers. At my school every class goes on overnight trips from the 2nd graders (for 1 night) to my middle schoolers (for 10 days or more). My husband went on nearly all of them as a chaperone, and the students loved him as he did them. I always valued all the adults my students could connect with in their lives, a good part of learning as they grew up.

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    Carol Varsalona
    Posted at 12:30h, 24 May Reply

    Thank you for sharing some powerful research with us. I think I will present this to teachers I will be working with next week. I always tell the teachers that PD is 24/7 on Twitter and social media.

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    Brian Rozinsky
    Posted at 13:16h, 24 May Reply

    What really matters in education? It all does. Thanks for your thoughts pinning this truism to human actions.

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    Carrie Gelson
    Posted at 14:07h, 24 May Reply

    I love that you shared these words from Mary Ellen Caesar and the thinking it inspired with you. Relationships are everything.

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    Posted at 15:21h, 24 May Reply

    I loved every word of this post. Ultimately, they remember how we related to them and how we cared – this is what deepens our teaching.

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    Jennifer Laffin
    Posted at 16:37h, 24 May Reply

    I’m with Tara — I loved every word. The teachers we remember ourselves are the ones who made a connection with us. My own family jokes that there are 21 kids in our family because I talk about “my kids” at home so much. 🙂

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    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 17:39h, 24 May Reply

    A strong piece, Clare. It is formative assessment – yes. I think sharing our writer’s notebooks with our students helps to make those connections more visible. The importance of using each other’s names in conversations has been documented by Johnson & Johnson in their work with cooperative learning. You share so many truisms here. It is about the connections we make to our (the students’ and the teacher’s) daily lives, to our students’ interests and needs, to their fears and joys – connectedness. Yes. That is what it is all about. Thanks for a good read!

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    Posted at 19:19h, 25 May Reply

    There is so much power in knowing not only the names of our students but others. The human element is necessary in our profession. I pride myself in remembering the names of my former students when I am out in the community. The power of connection is real. Great post, Clare. Thanks for sharing! ~Amy

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