As an educator, I try hard every semester to learn my students' names. But, I'm not perfect and at the end of every semester I end up with a few students whose names I have never learned. I used to feel guilty about this. I don't anymore. Here's why.
I've been thinking lately about the main reason why I fail to learn some students' names and I think the students themselves bear some, if not all, of the responsibility.
I came to this insight in part by reading Scott Ginsberg's book Make a Name For Yourself. In the book he offers useful advice for becoming more approachable and memorable. These skills are important in a world of social media as well as social networking.
The most important takeaway is that if you're not approachable and memorable you might be negatively affecting your chances for success both personally and professionally. So, what can students do to make a name for themselves and help their professors (and others) remember their names? Here's a few tips:
1. Smile more. Everyone likes to see someone who is smiling. Even non-smilers like people who smile! Smiling can show engagement, understanding, curiosity, All good traits for students to manifest. And, you'll go a long way towards being more memorable.
2. Ask more questions. This is good advice for students anyway. It's one of the best ways to insure you are learning and it helps you to clarify your ideas. But, it is one of the least used tools in the average student's arsenal. Perhaps it's ignored because it will lead to being more memorable. No one wants to be remembered for asking a stupid question. But, aside from the fact that no question is stupid if it can further your own learning, the benefit of being remembered remains whether or not you think the question you are asking is stupid.
3. Make comments when they are solicited. One of my favorite questions to ask in class is "What do you think?" One of the things I am looking for is some evidence that there is actually thinking going on! Being able to formulate your thoughts on a topic and articulate them is a very useful life skill. It also needs to be practiced. So, take the opportunity when offered to develop this skill.
4. Make small talk. One of the often overlooked aspects of networking is small talk. But, such inconsequential chit chat can serve a useful purpose by establishing common interests, developing rapport, and opening the door to unexpected networking opportunities.
Every semester I am usually asked once or twice to write a letter of recommendation for a student. Sometimes I turn these down simply because I cannot in good conscience write a letter that would really benefit the student. The reason I can't write the letter is mainly due the fact that the student was not memorable. How many other opportunities are such non-memorable students missing out on everyday? There's no way of knowing but I suspect they are missing out on a few. I can be sure they're missing out on some important learning experiences.