I will always remember

For weeks now I’ve been thinking of an interaction I had with a former student.

I had the opportunity to visit the high school in our district and see the work that was going on there. For some reason, I hadn’t even thought about running into former students.

But as we stepped into the first classroom, I was struck by familiar faces. Faces that had been engrained in my mind as toothless six year olds…Those lisps and how they learned to read- now adult like. High school freshman.

I didn’t recognize him until our second walk through that first classroom. It wasn’t until someone said his name. The memories came flooding back. It had been a rough year. There were many great moments and plenty of hard ones. There had been tears- his and mine. The plans. The meetings. The phone calls. The nights spent worrying. Despite all of that, I could hear his little voice say, “I love you Ms. Carey.”

I couldn’t pretend I didn’t see him. I’ve often thought of him and wondered how he was doing.

Putting my hand in his arm, I said, Robert? Ms. Carey. I was your first grade teacher. Do you remember me?”

This interaction has replayed in my mind. Over and over. I imagined it going differently.

He looked at me with disgust. “I don’t remember you or anything else about that school. I hate everything about that place.” Then his eyes went back to his laptop. He was done with me.

Taken aback, I retracted my hand mumbling, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” I backed away.

I wish I could have told him how much I cared about him during our year together and beyond. How I would have done anything to help him, how I tried. In the end, I know nothing I could have done would have been enough. I wish I could have given him a hug and that he knew I would always remember him.

14 thoughts on “I will always remember

  1. How hard, but keep in mind it could have just been teen bravado. Sometimes it takes longer than we would like to get past difficult times and this young man may have truly forgotten the good times. Now, try to keep your happy memories of him and know that your work with him will influence him in ways he does not yet recognize.

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  2. It was a hard year for both of you. Right now, it seems that Robert remembers only the bad times. You did your best for him; that’s paramount. Don’t let this encounter get you down. Your description of Robert at the laptop–“he was done with me”–I can imagine how you were feeling.

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  3. I am shocked – as you were. I agree with above comments, bravado at play. It may take years for him to remember you as a caring soul in his life. On the other hand, he may never remember but you will always remember that you did the right thing by loving him and his toothless six year old. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Oh! My heart broke a little as I read this. These lines are incredibly powerful: “I wish I could have told him how much I cared about him during our year together and beyond. How I would have done anything to help him, how I tried. In the end, I know nothing I could have done would have been enough.” I know that all teachers know that we “can’t save them all” but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Maybe something I tell myself can help you? We often talk about “the drop that makes the bucket overflow” – I think of that as the person who changes a child’s life. The thing is, someone has to fill that bucket first. You helped fill his bucket, even if he doesn’t remember it. Keep filling those buckets with love. It makes a difference.

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  5. Oh, I feel with you. How disappointing for you. I’m glad you wrote about it though. It serves as a reminder to us all how differently people perceive and process events and circumstances, even more so considering adult, child and adolescent perspectives. That may not make the kind of encounter you experienced easier to stomach but I suppose it’s a reality of the human condition. Another former student on another day will likely surprise you with their gratitude and warm feelings. At least, that’s my hope.

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  6. Wow, your piece stopped me in my tracks. Even though so many have commented, so well, I feel I have to also. I agree that he would have had a miserable time with any teacher then, and you were probably the best outcome possible. Some kids have periods of suffering in school and it is so hard to know what to do for them. And of course, all us teacher-readers know how you suffered then, and now you feel all that rushing back. But I also agree with others that no love and kindness is ever wasted, and you did make a positive difference in his life. If only in not making it worse.
    I once taught in a religious preschool, and at the end of each year we would reflect together. We would share about one child we felt we had made real progress with, and another child we remained concerned about. Then there was a little prayer. There will always be both students, and always be things we are unable to change.

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  7. Wow … you were right. Not the interaction expected! As you replay this moment in your head, I’m sure Robert is also replaying his reaction in his head. Hopefully, in time, there will be another chance meet up … where you can say all that you wanted and his reaction will differ. I know it breaks your heart, but thank you for sharing this fragile moment. You have made me more aware of how I respond to students.

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  8. This is heartbreaking. Yet, we all have had students like this. They stay with us, as the years tick by. At the time, we did our best and loved them hard. I agree with other comments that in a few more years, he might have a change of heart. Thank you for sharing.

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