"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Sunday, December 19, 2010

They're ba-ack!!

They're your former students. They're wonderful. You remember them fondly. You help they're doing well and that they're happy. You'll never forget something or other they did or said.

You can't remember their name.

I wrote back in September about the annual duty of learning names of new students. But these are people you're meeting for the first time. Most students will cut you a little slack if it takes you a couple of weeks to get all the names down.

But when students you've known, often for years because you were involved in extracurricular activities together, drop in for a little pre-holiday visit, misplacing a name in your head brings on shame and disgrace, not to mention the implication that you've forgotten that student. They'd have to be a fool not to realize when I greet them with a "Hey, there you are! How are you?" but no name, that I just couldn't care enough to recall their name.

But it's not true. It's just that, for me anyway, I use the mode of memory I developed in school myself and employed so usefully when I was (briefly) an actor, often juggling three different scripts in my head at a time. You have to work on a "need to remember" basis. You put that temporary information in a high-traffic space which gets plenty of stimulation, but not into deep storage where you put things like the year of Shakespeare's birth and what exactly anaphora is. That way, when you don't need that temporary info, you can easily dump it without bruising your brain cells. Otherwise, you remember that stuff forever, along with other things you have no use for, such as the batting average of every member of the 1969 Mets and names of all the Marx Brothers films in chronological order.

But faces seem to go into deep storage whether you need it or not. We are evidently pre-verbal animals, or at least those parts of our brains are the last to go. So, beloved former students, when we see those glowing faces, sometimes buried under beards and strange tattoos (not to mention how the boys have changed), we do know EXACTLY who you are. We just wish that you had a bar code tattooed on your neck that could be automatically scanned as you enter our classroom so your name would pop up on a display on our desks. (That would be super-cool, wouldn't it?)

Don't be hurt. We remember you, we know you. Some of you -- we love. Just-- when you visit us, come with a friend who keeps saying your name over and over out loud to help us out.

Happy holidays!

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