SCOTTSDALE, AZ–Kelly Ebert’s first two months as a 4th-grade teacher has been a rollercoaster ride. There were low points, like Jason McFarland’ s three-week refusal to turn in his homework, even though he had completed every assignment. And there were high points, like Camille Easley’s mastery of the word ‘rehearsal’ to win the spelling bee. Then, there were many more lows. Chief among them, what Kelly affectionately refers to as the “Katie problem.”
Desert Green Elementary School’s 4th-grade class has twenty-one students. Among those twenty-one students, three are named ‘Katherine’ — Katherine Babbit, Katherine Bryer, and Katherine Burnell. All three of them go by ‘Katherine,’ and none of them will respond to ‘Kate,’ ‘Katie,’ or any other shortened version. “It’s been frustrating. All of their names end in ‘B’, so it’s not as if I can use their last initial to differentiate them. I have to point when I call on a Katherine, and nobody ever knows which one I’m talking about,” Ms. Ebert shared. “They never write their last names on any assignments either. I’ve reminded the Katherines countless times to do it, and they never do. I started handing out their grades at random. Though, I usually give the lowest grade to Katherine Bryer. She’s the stupidest Katherine.”
Fellow fourth graders have created their own nicknames for identifying the Katherines. There’s ‘pretty Katherine’ for Katherine Babbit, ‘funny Katherine’ for Katherine Burnell, and ‘stupid Katherine’ for Katherine Bryer. The system, though unkind, has been an effective means for addressing the correct Katherine. Even Ms. Ebert was an early adopter of the nicknames but had to stop after numerous complaints from parents and staff.