After over 25 years of teaching elementary school, I’ve learned that former students pop up unexpectedly.  And recalling names is tricky, to say the least.

This past Sunday RT and I took the two granddaughters to a little community restaurant for lunch after church.  I was busy handling the girls and didn’t really pay much attention to the teenager who was refilling the trays on the buffet line.  Suddenly she said the words that strike fear in teachers’ hearts: “You were my fifth grade teacher.”

Other elementary teachers will understand that fear.  To the student, the teacher pretty much looks the same as he/she did back when.  However, teenagers and adults seldom look like they did in elementary school.  Sure, there are a few that you recognize immediately.  But most kids grow and change during adolescence and end up looking quite different than they did during their cute elementary stage.  The girl with bouncy pigtails becomes a teenager with a short punk hairstyle.  The skinny kid beefs up and becomes a muscular football player.

Back to Sunday lunch.  Upon hearing the words, I looked up at the girl.  Definitely high school age – long blondish hair, but with absolutely NO other “recognizability factors” for me.   Throughout the years that I taught fifth grade, I probably had dozens of blondish girls in my class.   She could have been any of them.  Jennifer?  Courtney?  Stacey?  Lisa?  It was no use – I couldn’t risk a guess.  “Hi,” I said, “Tell me your name.”

“Lindsey,” she replied.

BINGO!  God was smiling on me because I placed her immediately.  I had taught more than one Lindsey – but this could be only one of them.  Whew!  Kids expect former teachers to remember them.  I repeated her name and added her last name  – making sure to say her last name clearly so she’d know I knew who she was.  She was a student who came to our school new in fifth grade, and I spent a good chunk of time that year helping her settle into a new school and a new set of friends.  That transition is often a difficult one.

We chatted for a few minutes and she told me about being in high school and working at the restaurant on weekends and the activities she enjoys now.  After my family ate, we chatted more since by then she was working the cash register.  It was pleasant, and I still smile at the thought of how the little awkward fifth grader had grown into such a mature teenager.  

However, it also reminded me that I probably pass former students fairly often since I still live in the area where I’ve taught the past 19 years.   Kids I had in fourth grade back in 1987 are now 28 years old.  I probably wouldn’t recognize any of them.  And the third graders I taught back in Georgia in 1976 are now in their LATE thirties.  I remember Dexter and Allen – two little boys in that third grade class.  Such sweet and mischievous little boys who are grown men now.  I wonder what they’re doing and where they are.

I feel very old now.

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8 Responses to “A Test for Aging Teachers”

  1. Polski3 Says:

    I know the feeling. The other day, I was out with my boys and at both places we stopped, there were former students of mine, both of whom recalled me and my name….. I do find it interesting about some of the things they remember about my class though.

  2. Mamacita Says:

    One of my former students was the nurse in the oral surgeon’s office yesterday. She now knows how much I weigh and what-all is wrong with me. She also put her fingers in my mouth and caused me great pain.

    This was nothing.

    Two of my former students came in my hospital room to check my stitches after I had my daughter.

    No, I have no pride now. None. Zilch. Zero.

    I’m not going to tell you who gave me my last mammogram.

  3. Ruth Says:

    Enjoyed reading this post as well as todays about mary Winkler. What did Sweet Stuff and Sunshine say tabout your encounter with a former student?
    I went out to eat with Martha King with some regularity for several years while i was on the staff at Trinity UMC. It was rare that one of her former students did not walk up and happily greet “Miss King.”

    As Marnacita noted above, teachers and youth leaders of all kinds are brought down from our pedestals (especially in doctor’s offices ) as their students age. But interaction with former students alwsys seemed to be a joy for Martha and with teachers in general.

  4. Darren Says:

    I fear our students’ showing up next week because they’ll expect me to remember their names from last year, and in many cases I won’t.

    I usually ask, “What’s your *last* name again?” Hopefully that will be the trigger I need.

  5. carol Says:

    Oh Mamacita! If one of my former students performed one of those duties, I wouldn’t want to know about it! Just give me some anesthesia and let me be oblivious!

  6. elementaryhistoryteacher Says:

    I seem to forget names the minute summer begins. One of the teachers on my team has taught for 35 years in our little town. In some families she has taught the children, parents, and grandparents. She can remember everyone’s name and their pedigree.

  7. Norma Says:

    That’s why we invite our teachers to our class reunions. So we can refresh their memories. Next year will be our 50th, and there are still a few teachers around.

  8. The Education Wonks: August 2006 - Thoughts And Ideas Freely Exchanged Says:

    Kramer auto Pingback[…] wish they had a daughter) should prepare to have their heart-strings tugged.Over at The Median Sib, they have the skinny on a secret fear that all of us teachers who are over a Certain Age have… but don’t want to […]

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