I will remember you

It’s funny how a teacher’s memory works.

School’s out. Nearly 100 kids I’ve seen nearly every day for nine months have checked out for summer. Of the graduated seniors, I’ve gotten to know many of them over a period of one, two, three or even four years. Some I got to know as part of one of my journalism staffs this year, others have been on staff for two or even three years, but a few I’ve known since they were in my freshman English class. One special student was even on the one and only middle school staff I did a yearbook for, so I’ve had her on staff for five years. But no matter how long I’ve known them, they all leave their unique mark on my memory, and while I’m interacting with them on a daily basis, I can’t imagine ever not knowing them.

Okay, I’ve only been doing this for six years, but it’s funny how a teacher’s memory works.

Today was a workday, closing out the end of the year with final grades and inventories and such.

Coming to a stopping place around noon, I left for a bite to eat. I drove through a nearby chain establishment for a neat little chicken sandwich and was greeted by a friendly and enthusiastic voice that apologized for keeping me waiting, and I believe he truly meant it. In fact, I found the voice warm and friendly, and subconsciously, I suppose, even familiar. When I pulled around, there was instant recognition, although not an instant name.

It’s funny how a teacher’s memory works.

I automatically raised my voice a pitch or two showing recognition and delight, for it was a friendly, familiar face I had encountered. I knew it belonged to a student I liked. I just couldn’t find his name.

I asked how in the world he was doing, and he told me he was great. In fact, he’d inquired about a particular school’s course of study and had heard back from them that morning and was really excited about it. And I was excited for him. I just couldn’t come up with his name. We chatted, and all the while I knew he had graduated the year before, I could have told you where in my class he sat as a freshman.

I bid him farewell and good luck, told him I’d see him later. Felt guilty that I couldn’t call him by name. As I drove away, I knew exactly who he’d interacted with in class. I could tell you they didn’t get along well, and while I liked both boys, they certainly didn’t like each other. Halfway across the parking lot, I got it.

James.

It’s funny how a teacher’s memory works.

It’s happened before. I see a face and immediately have the impression of how well I knew this student, how well I liked this student. I may even be aware of whether this student had brothers or sisters and who her best friend was. I often remember where they sat in my classroom, maybe even a bit of a piece of writing they did. But so often, as much as I seem to recollect, the name is one of the last things that comes to me.

Is it because we see so many Hailey/Haleys? So many Brittany/Britney/Brittnis? And don’t forget the Shawn/Seans and the Derek/Derricks and the Dillon/Dylans.

I want all my students to know that even if their names somehow escape the not-quite-steel-trap that is my mind, their thoughtfulness, their quirkiness, whether they rocked back in their chair, their innate ability to read my mind, their tendency to push all my buttons except the very one that will actually push me over the edge – those are the things that won’t leave me. I’ve got you right here. I might lose your name at some point, but I knew you and I’ll know you.

It’s funny, and even quite amazing, how a teacher’s memory works.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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