What’s My Name?

It was the summer of 1989. Monday, June 26th to be precise and the Arend family driving south on I-29 to Kansas City to watch the Kansas City Royals host the Seattle Mariners. Like most 10 year old boys in 1989, I was a huge Ken Griffey Jr. fan and the Kansas City Royals were just bad enough to make it one of the easiest tickets around. (Those not as familiar with baseball, 1989 was Ken Griffey Jr’s rookie year and he was a rookie phenom) Living in South Dakota at the time, the closest I was going to get to Griffey was going to see him in KC.

Growing up as a child, most of our road trips included an amusement park (similar to Six Flags for the Texas folks) a camping ground and a day or two of seeing the sites of the city. Our trip to Kansas City was no different. It included Worlds of Fun, camping and the Hallmark Crown Center.

Missouri home to Hallmark and the Hallmark Crown Center was a tourist stop on many families stops in the city. Our family was no different. After taking a tour of the Hallmark Crown Center we stumbled into the Crown Center Hotel Lobby and unbeknownst to us, the hotel happened to be where the Seattle Mariners were staying and the team bus had just pulled up outside. As we stood in the lobby, we noticed athletic looking gentlemen getting off of elevators making their way to the bus idling outside. Wasting no time, I grabbed the sports page off of a hotel lobby table and along with my 7 year old brother, politely started asking ball player after ball player for their autograph. “Excuse me sir, may we please have your autograph?” My brother and I were killing it, getting autograph after autograph, keeping one eye open for Ken Griffey Jr. to exit the elevator.

We mulled around the hotel lobby for 90 minutes collecting autographs and my brother and I never did see Ken Griffey Jr. (My dad happened to see him, but that is a different story for a different day) As our time was winding down, I noticed what I thought was the tallest man I had ever seen, exit an elevator and begin making his way towards the bus. As any 10 year old boy would have done, I headed for the exit doors in an effort to cut him off and ask the question I had asked at least 30 times earlier that day, “Excuse me sir, may we please have your autograph?” I had no reason to believe the result would be any different than the previous 30 times, but this time the answer was different. The tallest man I had ever seen simply replied. “What’s my name?” Confused and somewhat embarrassed, I had to admit that I did not know. “Um, I am sorry sir. I know you play baseball for the Seattle Mariners, but I am not sure what your name is.” Maybe I was shrinking, maybe he was growing, but the brief silence made him seem even taller. He responded, “If you do not know my name, I am not signing an autograph.” I was devastated and he did not care. He simply turned and made his way to the bus.

Later that night at the baseball game, I used my program to determine the tallest man I had ever seen was none other than the 6’10” Randy Johnson, who this past Sunday, entered into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It has been 26 years since that terrible day in June and you will be happy to know there was no permanent scarring from that dreadful afternoon, but every time I see Randy Johnson on TV or hear his name, I am reminded of the story and more importantly, I am reminded of the power or being able to answer the question, “What’s my name?”

Students across the United States are returning to classrooms in the next several weeks and will be greeted by classroom teachers who will most certainly know their names. When I was in the classroom, I took pride in knowing all of my students names (without needing name tags) on the first day of school. It is the expectation right? Teachers should know the names of their students.

I have a question for you. Do you know the names of other students? Do you know the names of other students in the same grade level you are in? Do you know the names of students in other grade levels?

School leaders and educators all understand the importance of establishing a healthy school culture and environment. At the core of a healthy school culture and environment you will find educators who value relationships. Can the type of relationships that are necessary for student success exist without knowing names?

I love the innocence of students. Throughout the year, students will approach me in the hall and ask, “Do you know my name?” I love the look on their face when I can immediately say, “Of course! Your name is….”. On the contrary, I feel just as big (or little) as I did that summer day in June when I do not know the student’s name.

As I turned on SportsCenter this morning, Randy Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction speech was on and I could not help but be reminded of the words he directed towards me over 25 years ago. My PLN colleague Angela Smyers captured it beautifully.

As school draws near, do not forget the simple things, do not forget the students, do not forget their names.

This year when a student asks, “What’s my name?” What lasting impression will you leave?

3 thoughts on “What’s My Name?”

  1. Matt, this is really powerful. I have been on a soapbox to get teachers to learn ALL of their student names – not just the English speaking students. It's essential to their identify, self-worth, and ultimately their success. Their names are no more difficult than many of the American names, and the kids used to tell me it was embarrassing that the teacher didn't know their name. I know this is a little different than your initial topic, but I really think they're similar. Thanks for writing this.

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