kidsProfessor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

I’ve always believed that mutual respect is an important prerequisite to learning. Students show respect to me by showing up on time, by paying attention, and by keeping their laptops closed and their cell phones turned off.

So how do I show respect to the students? Traditionally, by doing my best to give useful and interesting lectures. And, lately, by knowing each student’s name. I always knew some of their names, but a few years ago it occurred to me that I could learn to recognize all my students using the pictures conveniently provided by the registrar.

Because my introductory Artificial Intelligence class has on the order of 200 students, it takes a few hours to get the job done, so it is time to get started. Learning the final 10% of the names is always tough. Some students look alike; some don’t look anything like the pictures they sent to MIT when they were high-school seniors; and some have names that roll awkwardly off my English-speaking tongue.

But it is worth the trouble. Usually the first time I greet a student by name, especially outside of class, the student is astonished, as if witnessing some sort of miracle.

Actually, a sort of miracle does occur, because once I know a student’s name, we both tend to perceive our relationship as collaborative, rather than adversarial. The student works harder; I spend more time preparing; and we both enjoy the teaching and learning experience more.

It’s empowering, and I’m reminded of the princess in the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale who got power over Rumpelstiltskin once she learned his name. There is actually quite a lot we learn from fairy tales, but I’ll tell that story another time.