I recently ran into a former professor of mine from my undergrad days at U.P.E.I. I actually had been invited to attend a talk that he was presenting to a small group of people in his home- thus the reason for our paths crossing. As I was re-introduced to him by my friend (after a fourteen year hiatus from studies at the same university where I had first met him), I had already convinced myself that he wouldn’t remember me. After all, the class had been held in an amphitheater-style classroom- I was just a face in the crowd. A number on a spreadsheet.
Why would he remember me?
Why that mattered to me that he remembered me, is an interesting thought. Does it matter that teachers remember their students? As his student, I certainly remembered him- his style of teaching, his topic of interest- even some of the things he had said. But for some strange reason, it mattered to me- in that moment- that he remember me.
As pleasantries were exchanged, he assured me that he did indeed remember me. And he paused to talk to me about my life, work and writing. As we reacquainted, I remember feeling honored that a teacher at the university level would remember a former student from many years prior and thus take the time to talk to that student, me- showing an interest in who I had become.
It mattered that he remembered. It mattered that he was that kind of teacher that remembered. And I am of the opinion that it matters that we care enough for our students to remember them. To remember the essence of who they were when we were a part of their lives.
Can we always remember their names? Regrettably, no. This is a grief of mine. Can we remember all their likes and dislikes? Not likely. All the ins and outs of their lives? The ideas and beliefs they espouse? Their dreams and ambitions? Hardly.
We can’t remember everything, but we can remember something. And that something essentially is that we can remember the person.
It matters that we care enough about our students to remember them, that we care enough to remember the person.
I have students whom I still remember from my student teaching days fifteen years ago. Do I remember everything? Again, this is an unreasonable expectation. I sometimes find myself forgetting details as the years go by. Yes, I forget details at times, but I still remember the person. And I believe I do so in part because I challenged myself to take the time in the classrooms I was blessed to be part of, to be in the moment. To really make what I was doing an experience that I was present for, not just something I put my time into so as to make a buck. So as to do a job, fulfil a mandate or complete a task.
I remember because I made it a priority.
Caring for people requires investment. And when we invest our time- using that same time to open up discussion, opportunity, possibility and conversation, we have more of a chance of remembering. More of a chance of keeping connection. And it’s worth it to ourselves to remember the people who’ve touched our lives, our students. It’s worth it. Because those same students we remember, for better or for worse, are the very reason we do what we do.
They are the reason we are in this profession. The reason we teach.
So in thinking about remembering people who’ve changed my life, I wanted to share with you some students I remember:
That boy in my third grade class who brought his favorite CD in for me to listen to
That girl who loved to figure-skate, whom I drove forty-five minutes to watch practice
That boy in my high school history class who always fell asleep because he had worked at the fish plant until 11:00 p.m. the night before
That boy who I eventually won over- even after I caught him starting a fire in the school gazebo
That girl I wrote a letter to and read to her class after I watch her being bullied
That boy I would have followed to the moon and back after he shared with me what had happened to him that morning before he’d even made it to the bus
That little girl I knew needed extra love- and her parents too
That boy in my tenth grade law class who scribbled words I can’t even describe- whom I knew needed to be read by someone with more authority than me
That girl whom I nominated for a music award
That boy I sang a duet with at the school variety concert
These students I remember, these students I will never forget- for they are blessings in my life, even though I may not have known it at the time. Little graces that I have known along the path. People who have touched my life in this journey of mine as an educator.
True- sometimes my memory fail me. The details become a little fuzzy. The faces might even lose their defining features in my mind. But the person behind that face is forever etched in my heart.
I will always remember these students- their stories of hope, resilience, determination and sheer grit have made me the teacher I am today.
May I never forget the reason for why I chose to be a teacher. For why I am who I am.
It’s because of my students.