After over 25 years of teaching elementary school, I’ve learned that former students pop up unexpectedly.Â 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.Â 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.Â Suddenly she said the words that strike fear in teachers’ hearts: “You were my fifth grade teacher.”
Other elementary teachers will understand that fear.Â To the student, the teacher pretty much looks the same as he/she did back when.Â However, teenagers and adults seldom look like they did in elementary school.Â Sure, there are a few that you recognize immediately.Â But most kids grow and change during adolescence and end up looking quite different than they did during their cute elementary stage.Â The girl with bouncy pigtailsÂ becomes a teenager withÂ a short punk hairstyle.Â The skinny kid beefs up and becomes a muscular football player.
Back to Sunday lunch.Â Upon hearing the words, I looked up at the girl.Â Definitely high school age – long blondish hair, but with absolutely NO other “recognizability factors” for me.Â Â Throughout the years that I taught fifth grade, I probably had dozens of blondish girlsÂ in my class.Â Â She could have been any of them.Â Jennifer?Â Courtney?Â Stacey?Â Lisa?Â It was no use – I couldn’t risk a guess.Â “Hi,” I said, “Tell me your name.”
“Lindsey,” she replied.
BINGO!Â God was smiling on me because I placed her immediately.Â I had taught more than one Lindsey – but this could be only one of them.Â Whew!Â Kids expect former teachers to remember them.Â Â I repeatedÂ her name and added her last nameÂ – making sure to say her last name clearly so she’d know I knew who she was.Â 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.Â 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.Â After my family ate, we chatted more since by then she wasÂ working the cash register.Â It was pleasant, and I still smile at the thought of how the little awkward fifth grader had grown into such a mature teenager.Â Â
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.Â Â Kids I had in fourth grade back in 1987 are now 28 years old.Â I probably wouldn’t recognize any of them.Â And the third graders I taught back in Georgia in 1976 are now in their LATE thirties.Â I remember Dexter and Allen – two little boys in that third grade class.Â Such sweet and mischievous little boys who are grown men now.Â I wonder what they’re doing and where they are.
I feelÂ very old now.