At the golf course last weekend a tall, clear-eyed young man walked up and shook my hand. It was an old student of mine – not that old, just a couple of years – who I didn’t remember. I had to ask his name. He told me he got the highest grade in my class. I still didn’t remember him – not until he told me his name, John.
I make a real effort and am usually successful at memorizing students’ names by the end of the first week of classes. I use names constantly in class during our ten weeks together, but many names don’t stick beyond the end of the term. I was used to seeing John sitting down so never noted his tallness and more importantly he just quietly went about his business – no muss, no fuss. I really didn’t need to attend to his learning needs very often. I don’t remember ever discussing outside matters. If I had known he was a golfer (Did I?), we could have exchanged a lot of stories.
This is a case of focusing on the center. When I teach I pitch my lectures to the middle student. Hopefully they will get what they need. The better students will proceed without too much effort and I can give extra help to the struggling students. Later I will probably recall the middle and lower level students easier that the better students who needed and got less attention. I don’t completely ignore the higher students’ learning needs since I give all students challenging writing assignments.
I am sorry I didn’t remember John’s name – personally sorry. I still recall, some 47 years ago, needing a signature from my physical chemistry instructor a semester after I had taken his course. I had gotten the second highest grade on his final in a class that included first year graduate students and I had asked questions virtually everyday and yet he didn’t know who I was. It still rankles. I wish I had remembered John’s name. Hopefully I will see him again on the course and we can talk golf.