Several years ago I was at the Sunfest (a fantastic free world music festival) in London, Ontario and spotted one of my favourite professors. I wanted to go and talk to him, tell him about his great teaching, and how I appreciated that he never said someone was “wrong” but rather coached a better answer out of them. In the end, I decided that the awkward moment of him not remembering me was probably not worth any mumbled praise I might be able to squeak out. Sorry Professor Carmichael. ***
The same thing has happened to me on a number of occasions. Students I have taught appear with some frequency at the school. Sometimes they are coming back to study, other times they are in town mixing a nostalgic trip with a business trip or conference. This was the case yesterday.
A non-teacher stuck his head in the door of the teacher’s room. Since this usually provokes gasps and murmurs from the teachers, it is usually dealt with rather quickly but with an eye to business, not harshly. This person, looked at me and said my name. I looked at him and I said, because it was true, that I knew him. I apologized for not knowing his name, but I strongly felt that I knew him.
We talked, outside the teacher’s room for a few minutes. He had been my student many years ago and that he hardly recognized the place or any of the teachers. This was not surprising as the place has undergone major renovations and rebranding thanks to the purchase by an international company. Also, teachers come an go almost as frequently as the students. He explained that he was using his English skills in dealing with air cargo. He thanked me for teaching him and he wanted me to know that it didn’t go to waste. He gave me his card.
I had to rush off and teach another class, but encouraged him to visit our office and tell them of his experiences. I don’t know if it was a good idea or not, but I hoped that his impressions of the school and the education he received would be useful for them.
I went off to teach my class and put it at the back of my brain.
During the break, I ran into him again. Perhaps he just wanted to say goodbye again, or perhaps he had just been looking around some more. That’s when it happened. I remembered him. I didn’t remember his name, but I remembered the class he was in. I remembered that his handwriting, owing to the fact that his father was a calligrapher, was immaculate. I also remember him making one thousand paper cranes that he was planning to send to his girlfriend. Wow! Memory is such a fickle thing, but sometimes it is amazing.
We reminisced some more during the break about the class. He remembered a few of his classmates–a set of twins from France. It was like peeling back the layers of time.
Of course receiving compliments is a great idea for a perfect moment, but instead, I choose the fact that I remembered him. That was fantastic and gives me hope when other students eventually appear.
Now, I wonder if I should have spoken to Professor Carmichael….
***if anyone should happen to know Professor Carmichael, please pass on my highest compliments. I correct students in much the same way. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.