When Former Students Pop In or How Does a Teacher’s Memory Work?

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“We’ve walked both sides of every street
Through all kinds of windy weather;
But that was never our defeat
As long as we could walk together”.      “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

I met the most recent former student, who had popped in for a visit,  in the teacher’s room. Thankfully, she hadn’t come down to the English Room first.  It made me feel slightly less bad to know that the other two teachers, who had also chatted with the student warmly about what she’s been doing and what she plans to do, didn’t remember her name either.

The student graduated six years ago…

When we did figure out the student’s name, I was taken aback. That student and I had really “walked” together for three whole years through all kinds of “windy weather”! She was one of those hard of hearing students who had arrived in 10th grade hell-bent on proving that not only didn’t she know any English, it would be impossible to teach her any.  It took quite a while until she agreed to “take my hand” so we could “walk together” and brave the elements with a security net.

“Can you remember who I was?
Can you still feel it?”      “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what I remember (or don’t) about which former student. With some it’s their name, with other’s it’s a task they handed in or the way they behaved in some situation.  Some students I remember a great deal about and some I barely remember. That’s particularly embarrassing as I teach most of the students for three years and I spend a great deal of time thinking about them.  I’m at school five days a week, too. But it seems as if there’s a capacity limit  – each new class of students seems to erase memories of previous students.

You know I’ve heard about people like me
But I never made the connection.           “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

I’ve been teaching for 32 years now..

At least when I  meet students whom I taught more than 10 years ago I no longer feel embarrassed to ask them their name.

But six years?

Does your memory work in the same manner? How do you deal with it?


4 thoughts on “When Former Students Pop In or How Does a Teacher’s Memory Work?”

  1. I was given a group of broken family, resentful, rejected 12th graders who were somehow supposed to get through 3 points. A crazy, inspirational advisor convinced me we could do 5 points. I begged, cajoled, cried, pushed, dragged, inspired them to 4 points, then 5 points. They walked so straight, so tall. I won’t lie. When I called their fathers to tell them, their fathers misunderstood & began to yell at me, sure that someone else was calling to complain about their sons. When I told them I was calling to THANK THEM for sending me their wonderful sons, their voices…cracked & they began to cry, to make me cry so when I went back into the classroom with wet eyes, the boys all understood & began to cry. This year, those boys of mine are in Gaza. They’ve been back 5 times this year to visit me. Their English is so much better, but they only thing we say to each other is “I love you.” That’s how we feel.

    1. Wow, Ra’anan! That is so moving! Thank you so much for sharing that! Keep up the good work!

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