Once in a while I run into a former student. I call them “former” students because “old student” somehow just makes me feel older. I live in a small community so the odds of running into former students is pretty good. I’m always surprised that those former students are all adults now because in my mind they will always be first graders or second graders or struggling high school students. They’re often difficult to recognize. They all change a lot between the ages of 7 and 57.
Most of them I remember, sometimes I need a hint (like please tell me your name) and sometimes I do not remember them at all. But I never let on. I am good at faking recognition. Quite a few years ago, I ran into one of my favorite high school English teachers and she did not remember me. Even after I told her my name and graduation date and what the topic was of my Senior English theme paper. I was wounded. I thought because she was one of my favorites that I must have been one of hers. I guess not.
Last week another former student found me. My husband and I were looking over a project which he was going to tackle soon and there, sitting on the dock of an old pond, was a man. He was fishing. In about 4 feet of water because the pond was being drained. Later I found out from him that fishing in 4 feet of water gave you pretty good odds of catching the fish that were in that 4 feet of water.
We talked a few minutes and then he recognized me. He got really excited and told me that he had been paddled at least once every year while he was in grade school. And he remembered that I had “beat the crap”out of him with a ping pong paddle and it was probably because he deserved it! By then my eyes were getting bigger and bigger and my brain was spinning because he still hadn’t told me his name. Finally he blurted it out.
I remembered him. He was a tall, good-looking youngster who I recall was pretty smart. His parents were very supportive and must have known he was a handful, because they said they would never hesitate to back me up if he needed discipline. As I recall, he never gave me a bit of trouble, except maybe on the playground where 7 year old boys tend to get a little wild. But he was a good kid and he graduated and was now fishing in a pond. And I still do not remember beating the crap out of him or any other student during my career.
I didn’t get a chance to ask him what he had been doing with his life or if he had a family or if he was happy, because my husband decided it was time to move on. But on the way home, I kept thinking about him and I could clearly picture him in my classroom. Sometimes I can even remember a student’s handwriting after so many years. Because if I taught them anything at all, it was to always put their name on their paper! He had nice handwriting.
One thing I have discovered over the years is how selective our memories are. Inevitably the students I meet remember things that I do not. Of course, the things that were important to me as a teacher were not the same things that were important to a first grader. Memories always get a little distorted as the years go by.
Come to think of it, I do sort of remember a ping pong paddle.