Musings about academe in haphazard fashion.
So, this happens to me at least every couple weeks. I’m in the grocery store and the person bagging looks familiar. I’m in the line at the post office, and someone standing near me looks at me in a friendly way. A couple months ago, I had a nagging suspicion about the waiter at Pho Bac, a Vietnamese restaurant. Or, like last week, I took my daughter and niece to a new place, Artsy Me, to paint some ceramics, and I felt I had seen the assistant before. Paranoia inevitably sets in as I question myself, “Is this a former student?” Should I say, “You look familiar, have I had you in class?” Or, maybe I should start with, “Are you a former ASU or current GRU student?”
The reason for my paranoia, is that, most of these instances have resulted in the nagging suspicion being correct. I did not recognize, Michael, the waiter, because he had put on glasses (and very colorful ones at that) that he had not worn in class. In the case of Laura at the art studio, she had always been a quiet student who did not call attention to herself. In all the cases, though, I have a very difficult time with taking students out of context, i.e. out of the desk, standing up, and not in the classroom.
I always feel terribly embarrassed after these encounters because I cannot remember names, or the year I had them in class, just their friendly and familiar faces. For the student, this must be equally awkward as their former professor struggles to place them. In my defense, the 6 years (or 12 semesters + summers) teaching U.S. History since 1877 have tended to blur. Some semesters I have had as many as 45 students per class, others as few as 10; the average, is for three classes of 30 each. This means 90 new names each semester, not including summer and not including my upper level Latin American History classes.
It really is not intentional to “misplace” their names or connect college age individuals to my past classes. I have greatly enjoyed all these past years teaching, from an Assistant Professor as Augusta State University to an Associate Professor position at Georgia Regents University. With very very few exceptions, I have liked all my students and had very meaningful experiences. If anything, if I see you and smile and ask the question to reach out and connect, it means you, the student, reached me on a subconscious level. I cannot ever truly forget you and I thank you for enriching my classroom with your presence and participation.