The fear of being called on
So. Syllabi, lesson plans, tests/quizzes/HW, these lovely classroom centerpieces have always been a part of the conversation. We know what they are, thus we can actively discuss ways to make them as effective as possible for our students.
But what about the unseen, the unmeasurable?
Think about this from both perspectives: teacher and student. Have you noticed that when a teacher calls a student by name, sometimes the student's heart catapults a beat in anxiety? The use of the student's last name can be tricky as well - the teacher tries to be respectful or charismatic - yet some students associate hearing, "Ms. Williams" with being in trouble. Let's think about it; what is that about?
I believe that students have been conditioned, for generations, to keep a level of guard up around teachers, notably at the beginning of the year. All teachers tend to be lumped together by job title, until we individuate ourselves through our conduct and deeds. Not only must we demonstrate our own willingness to serve them, but also must we confront (too many) students who have been soured by teachers in their past. Students carry that upset around with them, indefinitely. The result is diminished connectivity in the classroom, which dilutes learning, curiosity, passion, and the collective search for wisdom.
So here's my suggestion: tap into your intuitions. If you call a student by name and he answers nervously, engage the moment. Ask kindly, "I may be totally off here, but do you feel like you did something wrong? Because you didn't." Or some variation of that. Intuition means entrusting yourself to feel the situation out. Perhaps you deem that such a conversation needs to happen privately. Or if it happens during class, it can be a tone-setting experience for the group that leads to ice-breaking-laughter. Either way, addressing their institutionalized fear head on will help them see the humanity in you. It's that very humanity that brings learning to life.