Why do teachers give students numbers?

“I don’t understand why so many of you cannot remember your student number.”

I heard this in a 3rd grade classroom last week in school. More and more teachers I know are assigning students individual numbers. I don’t understand it. Is this a charter school thing? If someone out there can explain the advantages of referring to students by number rather than name to me, please do. Especially considering that giving students numbers seems oddly mechanical and is certainly dehumanizing.

I even know kindergarten teachers who call students to line up or come into the room by number. Of course the 5 year olds sometimes forget to respond to their numbers, which leads to disapproving  chastisements from their teachers. Personally, I think getting mad at a 5 year old for forgetting to respond to a number is not only inappropriate, but also, a waste of energy.

Imagine if you went to work every day and your supervisors referred to you by number.” Number 14, 15, and 16 come to my office.” I know I would never choose to work in an environment like that.

Even if it helps teachers stay slightly more organized, what is numbering teaching students about how to treat others and how we view them as individuals? Is it so hard to label your files and checklists by name each year? It’s the kids we should be worried about, each and every one with their own unique names and needs, not  how easy it is to keep track of our spreadsheets and student data.


4 comments on “Why do teachers give students numbers?

  1. We use it hand out test scores anonymously.

    • Most people I have seen give student numbers in elementary school use it for lining up, filing etc and numbers are public. But couldn’t you just hand out test scores with a cover sheet so the score is hidden?

  2. SecondGradeTeacher says:

    The number system is amazing! It’s not at all a replacement for knowing students’ names–it’s a mnemonic device. I’ve never seen teachers call students by their number. It’s just an easy way to assign materials, figure out who’s missing, and build mental math into the school day. Want to make sure everyone gets a permission slip, even the kids who are absent? Have a student helper label the handouts 1-24 and hand out to kids based on number, setting aside the leftover numbers to hand out tomorrow. Have pocket charts, folders, or other materials you want to use year after year? Labeling them with numbers allows each kid to know her own materials while leaving the materials ready to go for a new class the next year. Lining up after a field study and only have 23 of 24 kids? Easily see who’s the missing child because you can rattle off the class roster by memory using the number system anytime, anywhere. Time to kill waiting for music class to start? Ask kids to complete math problems using their class numbers.

    Teachers have a lot to worry about. The number system just makes the organization part of things a little easier, to make more time for learning.

    • I am a teacher and I totally get the convenience and math added value. I have also never assigned student numbers, and don’t have any issues with permission slips, lining up etc. because there are other easy ways to keep track of that information. I think part of the issue is in the execution: chastising students for not remembering their numbers or referring to students by number is different then assigning numbers to play math games or boost math learning. Even with the convenience and math benefits- the idea still makes me a little uncomfortable. It is reminiscent of how teachers are treated when we work in giant bureaucracies ( as in NYC) and it just doesn’t feel right.

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