Monday, October 7, 2013

Help! I need to learn 200 names!

Music teachers are often responsible for hundreds of students, and no one ever pretends that this is easy. Just the same, we all entered this profession because we wanted to share the joy of music with the next generation (however cheesy that sounds, it’s true!) and having large numbers of students is simply an obstacle we need to overcome. Here is one way to help you reach your students more effectively.

Learning Names

I always make it my first priority to learn students’ names, because it’s the most difficult thing to do. At the beginning of my career I wanted to use every second of instructional time and begin teaching right away, but that method actually wastes more time in the long run. I found that students would still respond to me if I didn’t know their names for the first month, but after that they saw a lack of name knowledge as a sign that I didn’t really know what I was doing. Seeming incompetent – even when you aren’t – keeps students from taking your class seriously. At very young ages, children lack the understanding that you have other names to learn and it can really hurt a child’s feelings to discover his or her beloved music teacher doesn’t know this easy detail. So please, spend the first month learning names. Even if that’s all you do. It will help immensely in the long run.

Here are some great ways to learn names:

Make a seating chart the very first day; don’t wait. Then you can use the chart as a key and refer to students by name from the beginning. If you travel to other teachers’ rooms, ask them for copies of their seating charts. Let them know it would really help you out if they would alert you to seat changes when you arrive each music day.

Play name games. There are hundreds of these, and you can usually use them to reinforce a musical concept while you learn names. Two of my favorites are Who Took the Cookie from the Cookie Jar and Willoughby, Wallaby, Woo. If you let each student pick the student who goes next, use this as an opportunity to reinforce music class expectations too: “Lucas is going to call on someone who’s sitting nicely and raising a quiet hand.”

Review names with each class for as long as you struggle with names. One year I taught 600 children, and it took what I thought was an embarrassingly long time to know all of their names.  I had to find creative ways to review their names for myself without letting on that I had no idea what they were.

Go over them when class is over. This may seem like overkill, but it could save a great deal of class time if you take a look at the seating chart when students’ faces are fresh in your mind. Then pull it out and refresh your brain again right before their next music class.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Yes, it would be wonderful if you knew all those names right away, but the fact is, you’ll forget. I’ve had some truly awful name blunders with students I should have remembered. Instead of saying the wrong name, apologize profusely, mention that you’re bad with names (even though you probably aren’t!) and ask a direct, “What is your name?” Most students laugh, tell you and assume that you knew it the whole time and just had a forgetful moment.

So start learning those names! You’ll be glad you did.


Erika Popp is an Editorial Administrator at The Lorenz Corporation, where she works with composers and editors to publish new music and classroom tools. She earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree at Wittenberg University in 2006 and has seven years of classroom experience in North Carolina and Ohio. Her general music classrooms have included large auditoriums, closet-sized classrooms, normal rooms, and even travelling carts – whatever the size, she hopes they are always filled with learning.


  1. Agreed, yesterday I forgot a name and I called it a "Friday moment." It's totally worth it to know all the names.

  2. Sarah, this was a good reminder for me. I have 650 kids this year and I know I just need to put a little more intentional effort into remembering names and I know I'll get them. Thanks for sharing your ideas.