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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Attack of the clones

I’m having a terrible time remembering the names of all my students this semester. Partly it's because I’m teaching an absurdly large number of students (110, at last count), but it’s also because those students are grouped together in unhelpful and frankly rather alarming ways.

Example No. 1: In my afternoon survey I have 30 students, eight or ten of whom are women with straight, approximately collarbone-length hair somewhere on the spectrum from light brown to semi-blond. They all have pleasant, regular features and nice smiles. Almost all of them have names like Sarah (two of those), Katie (two of those, too), Rachel, and Kathy.

Example No. 2: My seminar on Pretty Darn Famous Author has 25 students, ten of whom are decidedly unkempt men—men with shaggy or genuinely long hair, a few days’ worth of stubble, and tired eyes. They all look like they’re in bands (most of them are) or take regular part in skateboard competitions. A large number have eastern or southern European last names.

Example No. 3: My morning survey contains nine of my eleven total African-American students, three of whom are men with essentially the same build, skin tone, and facial shape. However, since in this case there are only three who share the same general profile, I’ve been able to learn their names much more quickly because I’ve been able to identify and remember their differences--one has cornrows, one has a moustache, and the third has both a moustache and a goatee.

Because that’s the thing: it’s not that all the women in Example 1 or the men in Example 2 look identical—in some cases, they don’t even look that much alike—but when there are so many in one room who meet the same general profile, their sameness overwhelms whatever distinguishing features they may have.

All I can say is: thank God for Shaved Head Girl, Beard-and-John-Lennon-Glasses Guy, Pixie Haircut, Goofy Gangly Blond Dude, and Black Dyejob Waif with Tattoos. They'd rock under any circumstances, but they especially, especially rock under these.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:35 PM |


Blogger Ancrene Wiseass commented at 12:50 AM~  

Lord, that's so true! I noticed the drive toward uniformity in my classmates when I was in college. But it's, if anything, even more noticeable to me as an instructor: it's so damn hard to tell most of the kids apart.

Blogger StyleyGeek commented at 5:17 AM~  

It also doesn't help if they all seem to share the same personality (and I mean just one shared among them all).

Last year I had in one of my classes four blond-haired, jeans-and-cute-t-shirt attired 20-somethings whose only interactions in class consisted of giggling. I spent the first three weeks learning to tell them apart, and then the ENTIRE rest of the semester calling blonde giggler #1 Katie and blonde giggler #2 Claire, only to find out on the last day I had had the names the wrong way around all semester. And they hadn't been brave enough (or interested enough?) to correct me.

I still wince and go all pink when I remember that.

Blogger Professor B commented at 8:17 AM~  

This is so true. This semester is easier on the female side, because I have such a small number (6) and no duplicate names. The male side, though is difficult. 20 something unshaved, generally unkempt guys, t-shirts, baseball caps. At least 5 Matts a few Roberts, and a Mike or two. They are not a terribly interactive group. I take their picture on day 1 when I collect the little data sheet I aske them to fill out, and so try to learn their names from that. Impractical I'm sure with as many students as you have...

Blogger Dr. Virago commented at 11:19 AM~  

Oh, this is so funny -- because it's true! I especially have a hard time telling quiet white guys apart because there's so little range in sartorial style options for them (unless they're goth or punk, but I see few of those). And why oh why are they still doing the early-90s baseball cap thing???

If students talk in my class I learn their names almost immediately because then the appearance isn't all I'm going by -- voice, personality, brains, sense of humor, etc., all start to emerge (or not, in unfortunate cases).

Blogger Larry commented at 12:44 PM~  

I just enrolled in a grad school Psyc class this semester. The instructor took digital photos of us while we held a sheet of paper with our names written in large letters. Sort of like a mug shot, I guess, except that we were photographed in groups of four.

Anonymous Anonymous commented at 2:23 PM~  

What my school does is make available to professors a photo roster consisting of our student ID pictures. Granted, that means the first day of class involves a lot of professors joking about how we look nothing like our (sometimes very old) pictures, but I imagine it helps the prof. I've ALSO had professors who insisted on taking all of our photos, which is odd when you already have the photo roster, but noone seems to mind..


Anonymous Anonymous commented at 6:53 PM~  

This post really tickled me, forwarded it to one of my friends: we used to talk about how of all the students at my old uni, you could always pick out the English Lit lot. They are all the same, even in England!

Blogger jo(e) commented at 7:20 PM~  

Too funny. I think my daughter must be in your Brit Lit survey class, and my oldest son in your Petty Darn Famous Author class. The descriptions are spot-on.

Anonymous Adjunct Kait commented at 8:14 AM~  

We have that photo roster thing too (it's called Facebook, but it's not the same as the one the students use). It's pretty useful, and some faculty actually know their students' names before the first class.

I have the worst time with names. I always feel terrible because I'll get one or two very quiet guys who don't really stand out in any way, and I never learn their names. They think I don't like them or that I'm trying to ignore them. It's so embarassing!

One suggestion I can give you is that if you have a university email account, sign up for the Facebook that the students use (www.facebook.com). It is likely that most of the students have profiles, and you'll get to sort them out before the first day of class. (Sometimes they give a little too much information, but that's another story...;)). And the nice thing is, I've had a bunch of students add me to their friend list at the end of the term!

Sorry for such a long comment, but you sparked a very familiar sentiment for me.

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 10:52 AM~  

Yeah, at INRU I could access the university-wide facebook (I don't think faculty were supposed to be able to, actually, but maybe I could because I was a grad student), but I'm not aware that Big Urban has anything similar.

The worst thing is that some of these students ARE talkers--I just haven't figured out their names yet, because they're in a sea of clones! But I think I'm almost there--by next week I should know all but the most silent ones. I hope.

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