I got recognized in a crowd the other day. I’m famous.
No, not exactly. And it wasn’t from this blog, although that would have been awesome. “Hey! I know you! You’re that guy who writes Highway Pi! Can I have your autograph?” “Sure. Anything for my adoring fans.” Actually, if someone I didn’t know came up to me and said that, I’d be really scared, because I’ve never used my last name or a photograph of me on this site.
So here’s the story. I was at a concert on Friday night. This show was a three hour drive from my house. I have family in that area, I grew up in that area, and I went to the concert with my cousin. This really drunk guy in front of me at one point turned around and said, “Hey, is your last name [insert my last name here]?” I said yes, thinking that was someone I had gone to school with at some point in my childhood, or possibly someone who was in a class or on a sports team with my brother, since he didn’t know my first name. I said I didn’t recognize him, and he said, “Not me. That girl right there. She says you were her teacher a long time ago.” I asked him when, and what school, and the information was accurate; I was in fact a teacher at that school during that year. It was 11 years ago that I was her teacher, and the school was over 100 miles from where this concert was. I asked her her name again, since I couldn’t hear what the drunk guy had said. Normally this would have been one of those really awesome wow-what-a-small-world, what-have-you-been-up-to-the-last-11-years moments, except for one thing.
I don’t remember her.
She didn’t seem too upset or put off by that. She said it was a long time ago, and she understood that I’ve had a lot of students since her. I even went so far as to ask who her friends were in 7th grade (which is the grade I taught during the year in question), and if she remembered what period she had my class, hoping that that might jog my memory. She said she was quiet and didn’t have a whole lot of friends, and she only remembered one friend’s name. I do remember her friend by name, although I don’t remember that girl very well either, just the name. And if she was correct regarding the period she had me, I remember her class being one that was mean to me, so I’ve probably blocked it out of my memory.
I realized something yesterday. I mentioned in #7 that I had a pen pal in the ’90s who I recently tried to track down and get back in touch with, and she didn’t remember me. What happened Friday night was that same kind of situation, except now I’m on the other side. This girl who I used to write to years ago meant a lot to me. I didn’t have a lot of friends during that time, I was going through some difficult transitions in my life, and she was always there to be kind and encouraging, not to mention nice girls who look as good as she did often didn’t pay that much attention to me. But from her perspective, being cute and young and friendly, she had a whole lot of other guys competing for her attention, so one of them is much less likely to stand out almost 20 years later. As for what happened Friday night, a middle school student only has five or six teachers each year at the most, so each one is a lot more likely to leave an impression on a student. I can still name all my teachers from 7th grade, for example. But from my perspective, I had around 160 students each year, and I had hundreds more students each year after that. It’s only natural that I would have forgotten a few over a span of 11 years, and I don’t think it makes me a bad teacher or a terrible human being for having done so.
Still, though, I like running into and hearing from former students. I wish I could remember them all… well, at least all the ones who weren’t mean to me all the time. There are a few that I’ve stayed in touch with all along, and a few more who have tracked me down on Facebook over the years, and a few more whom I have gotten reacquainted with after running into them somewhere. It’s nice to see what became of these people whom I knew as preteens and teens. And it’s always fun to hear what they remember about my class. This girl I saw on Friday said that she liked my class, and that I was always helpful.
I’ve never mentioned my line of work on this site… but this fall, I will be returning to the public school system. Maybe I should do something differently at the end of the year to make sure I remember these students. I’ve saved yearbooks from every year I’ve taught before, and if this new school does a yearbook, I’m planning on continuing that practice. Maybe I should save a copy of each year’s class rosters too. Or maybe I should just let life take its course and not feel so bad about forgetting some people from the past. I don’t know. Something to think about as I get ready for the new school year.
And as I started writing this last night, I was telling someone this story, completely forgetting that I had just told her this same story 20 minutes earlier. So maybe my memory is just going bad as I’m getting older. 🙂