I have resigned from teaching, but the Phoenix kids have all built little huts in my heart, and they’re not moving out anytime soon. This is especially true for the kids that I’ve been teaching since the beginning. Some have been coming to see me once a week for most of their lives. They are important to me, and I hope to see them when I come back to visit, so that I continue to watch them grow. (If your kid was a student of mine, I still want to know how they’re doing, and I still have my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
This summer I went for a picnic in the park with one of our Phoenix families. When one of the kids called me Miss Vanessa, I told him, “I’m not your teacher anymore, I’m your friend now. You can call me Vanessa.”
“Vanessa?” he asked.
“Yessa?” I replied.
There was a pause.
“Well,” he said, “I just have to tell you…nothing. Because this was just a test run.”
Good job, kiddo! You did exactly what you should do when someone tells you their name: give it a test run. You’re more likely to remember it that way.
Learning someone’s name is the first step in forming a positive relationship with them. It’s also a bit like a magic word. When you know someone’s name, you can use it to find them in a crowd, or make them stop whatever they’re doing and pay attention to you.
Teach your child to use someone’s name as soon as they are introduced. Get them to say it out loud, maybe even repeat it a few times. If I meet someone and they say “Vanessa, Vanessa, Vanessa,” I know they are making an effort to memorize my name, and I feel respected.
That’s another magical property of names: by using someone’s name, and addressing them the way they wish to be addressed, we show them respect. On a philosophical level, we are acknowledging their personhood. That’s what social skills are all about: acknowledging one another as individuals, and figuring out how we all fit together to form a community.
RECOMMENDED: 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills by Lawrence E. Shapiro
Vanessa Farkas is a writer, musician, educator, and lifetime learner who worked at the Phoenix Education Foundation as a music teacher from 2010-2018 and has left to retrain and pursue a new career as a legal assistant. Her eight years at Phoenix have left her enriched with experiences and stories, and this series blends those stories and experiences with practical advice and perspectives on helping children develop social skills. Names have been changed.