Many years ago, I was leaving school where I worked when two teenage boys approached me by my car. One of them said, “Do you remember me?”
It was a small town that I did not live in, so if there was a student in that town, I knew them. Not to mention that the school where I taught was a K-8 school of 150 so you watched all of the students grow from tooth-gap wonders to awkward tweens. As he and his friend stood in front of me, I knew right away who it was.
Now, mind you, I could have said, “Dude, I would need amnesia to be able to forget you!” or “Nope, don’t recall.” Instead, I said, “Of course. You are on my Top 10 List of Unforgettable Students.”
He seemed stunned to be in that high of an honor, but there was something that did not seem to make that “honor” worthy of awe and esteem. “I am?” he asked.
His friend, who I also remember from that class chimed in. “Is that because of the stunt he pulled in third grade?”
While his friend blushed, I agreed to that and a number of other things. (To protect the innocent, I will not divulge his unique act that NO ONE in that classroom will forget. No one was injured, but I will say that instruction time was postponed for at least thirty minutes and an apology was necessary.)
Teachers cross paths with hundreds and thousands of students in their career life. There are those who you aspired to have your own children become and those whose names will never be considered for birth certificates no matter how common that name may be. Some of the stories about students never go beyond the teacher’s lounge for the day while others stay with you for the rest of your life.
This particular student makes the Top 10 for “The Incident”, but because I wanted him to succeed just as much as his peers. He was not a strong reader, but he had an interest of books. I was a reading coordinator at the time we met and I tried to have a variety of books for all ages and interests in my room. He had a fondness for joke books and the small school library couldn’t keep up with it. He would come into my room and asked to borrow a book. As with all of the students who would borrow my personal books, I would make them take an oath. They had to promise, with a hand on the book cover, that they would never do anything to damage the book on purpose or else they would be hung by the ceiling fan by their toenails. Once they got the giggle out of their system, they were off to enjoy the book.
His fondness for humor made him a perfect choice for The Day My Butt Went Psycho by Andy Griffiths. He would borrow it over and over again and I never discouraged it. One day he came to my room looking a bit scared. There was a tear on the back cover covered with a piece of transparent tape. As he rambled about how he dropped it and he tried to catch it and it just happened, I thanked him. He was confused. I explained that he showed great maturity in taking care of the problem and then to tell me what happened even though he took an oath. (Please, to think I can take a squirmy child over my head to attach to a ceiling fan PLUS find a way to attach their toenails to it? Why do you think I chose that oath?)
I gifted him that book. I don’t know much about his family background, but we were a low-income school. Not everyone invested in books for their homes when there were other financial concerns like mortgages, rent, utilities, and food. That day, he looked like it was the greatest gift in the world to him.
So yes, he made my Top 10 for many reasons, not just a bad decision made on the day I happened to be in his classroom. He joins a second-grade, red-headed girl who shocked me while student teaching when she looked over to the fifth grade boys in the hallway and said in her best Lauren Bacall voice, “Hello, boys”. Another member on the list was the fifth grade boy where I was a recess aide who would always come over and greet me to see how I was and to make sure that my boyfriend at the time was treating me nicely and being a gentleman. I asked him one day if he was going to be a lawyer, politician, or salesman. He looked at me with seriousness and maturity and said, “A lawyer, just like my dad.” Recently I saw that he won a local election, so I am proud of him for that too. If I didn’t remember his name and personality, his yard sign would have meant nothing to me.
Maybe not all of my former students make the Top 10, but I still remember many of them. Some of them have reached out and connected with me on social media. It is flattering that they choose to do that. While I have no other contact directly with the schools where I worked, it gives me a chance to get a glimpse in the life I used to know. I can still advise when they ask and they can keep me up to date on some of the other students with good and bad news.
Think about your Top 10 in any category. These people make the stories of our lives. You may have it written down, just like I did above for this student, or you may have it stuck in your head. Hopefully you have been able to let them know how much you appreciate them in their life. I told him that I was proud of how far he had come since grade school and hoped he was doing well in high school. I hope that he and many other students remember me. Maybe I won’t make their Top 10 Teachers, but I hope I made an impact.