As an educator, I am always pleased to cross paths with former students. The older I get, the happier I am when I can recall not only faces, but names as well. Today I was so proud. A former student came to present materials to our district administrative team, and when he asked “Mr. Roth, you probably don’t remember me?” I looked at him and responded, “Ryan, of course I remember you!” He was a student in my seventh grade social studies class over twenty years ago. I was thrilled he remembered me, and that I could place the name with the face.
As he was sharing his wares with us and discussing their benefits, I figured I would do a little inquiry. “So Ryan, I hope I made a positive impression on you as a teacher. What is it you remember from my class?” I was so hopeful. Obviously, if he remembered me there must have been something dynamic from my pedagogy that stuck. My amazing lesson plans? My rough and tumble attempts as an early adopter of technology? The neat and organized structure to my classroom?
Without missing a beat, Ryan responded, “Once I had a really sore throat and had a cough drop in my mouth. You didn’t believe me because you thought it was candy and yelled at me.”
I was speechless. Dazed. Confused. And suddenly I remembered the incident. It was as if I had been transported back in time aboard a tricked-out DeLorean. I smiled, said I remembered, and sat in my seat for the remainder of his presentation. When he was finished, I apologized to him in front of the entire administrative team for not believing him 20 years ago when as a seventh grader, he tried to be honest with me and I yelled at him.
Today, at forty-seven years old and a public educator for over 23 years, I learned some very valuable lessons:
The saying people will not remember what you said or what you did, but how you made them feel is 100% true. It truly is sometimes the smallest acts, intentional or unintentional, that leave the greatest mark on someone in terms of his or her experience.
You are never too old to learn a lesson, especially when the student becomes the teacher. The minute you stop learning, you stop improving. I know I am not perfect, and this was a reminder that I will forever be a work in progress.
Reflection on who you were and what you did as an educator is powerful, whether it was an action you took yesterday or twenty years ago. Reflection and inquiry are the two most powerful tools one can employ as an educator. When you use them thoughtfully, you not only consider or reconsider your actions, but the experiences those actions create for others.
If you ran across a former student, what questions would you ask? What would you hope the response would be? What would you do if the response was not what you expected?
I would love to hear your thoughts and observations!