Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's my name?

Illustration by LibbyLu.

I walked through the campus commons this afternoon, scooting along in my hurried way between classes, when a student descending steps to the second floor approached and said, “You don’t remember me do you?” She must have thought that I looked at her, but I did not. I was texting John and internally trying to justify why I should get a soda rather than a better choice, a bottle of water. I did not even have a chance to not remember her and I was a little taken back by her question. I looked at her intentionally recognizing her face but not her name. I knew her and I knew that I had known her from before today and in another context. I recognized her as a student but could not remember her name, her semester, or her grade. She reminded me that her name was Debbie. She seemed not quite disappointed as much as triumphant in that she may have been right about something. I received the strong impression that my lack of memory of her proved I did not care about my students as much as I profess. This saddened me. She left with a smile, a bit of a smirk, on her face and I felt like an uncaring and bad teacher. I continued to the vending area, dropped my coins, a quarter, another, a dime, and the soda dropped to the bucket at the bottom of the machine.

I struggle at the beginning of each semester to learn the many faces and names that enter my classroom doors. Last semester was especially difficult as I began the semester with seven full classes which equal one hundred and sixty eight students. I do care. I do want to know each and every name, but students do not always make this easy. Some students do not want me to remember who they are. These students spend their time in class hiding behind renewed hip mop-tops, bowed heads, personal lap tops and baseball caps (The etiquette of our western society dictates that wearing hats in the classroom is unacceptable. I consider it rude and disrespectful, but this is for another blog post.). These students never participate in class discussion, never look at me during class, never show me they have learned the material, never acknowledge work with their group members, never ask questions, never remember what is due when and never, ever, make conversation with me. These names are the hardest to learn.

There are names I can’t help but remember. I always remember the skeptic in class and the one most reluctant because they are usually quite vocal in their protests to learn. They make trouble, but not always in a bad way.

I always remember the class clown(s). I always remember the ones who struggle to learn but are most determined to learn, the sick, the hurt, and the wounded. These students all have things in common. They are in college to meet goals beyond the diploma.
So, in my defense, I would like to remember every name over multiple semesters through years of teaching, but I just can’t and, I believe, it has nothing to do with how much I do, or do not care, about my students. If I didn’t care, wouldn’t I go find a bigger paycheck?


  1. Very powerful post. And as always, I have the utmost respect for all teachers.


  2. Mrs. A
    Please Please do not let that incident tarnish your happy glow. I know that you try to be there for each and every one of us, your students. Let me just say as one of your "wounded ones" that YOU make a huge impact. You know my situation and how hard each day has become. I am only trying to survive each day right now and although I am in school and fighting to stay there, life at this time has lost its savor. YOU are the reason I keep trying to get my work done, why I don't quit and just throw my work away and say it doesn't matter anyway. I don't want to disappoint someone special who put faith in me, so I am still working even if it is the hardest thing to do right now. You are an amazing teacher and I am sorry that one student didn't seem to understand that.