Hana Tichá has had a couple posts lately that have touched on this subject, but today’s prompted me to actually write. She describes a situation all teachers can recognize: running into a student years after you had them in class. What does the student do? Ignore you? Go up and start talking to you? Hana says:
I obviously prefer the latter scenario because it makes me believe that I made my mark in a student’s life; it makes me believe that I once mattered to a student. The other scenario, on the other hand, makes me feel embarrassed, ignored and unappreciated. In such a case, I tend to accuse the student of utter disrespect and total ignorance.
I will admit to feeling much the same way. I tend to take it personally when a former student doesn’t recognize me — or acknowledge that they recognize me. As a teacher, I want to have made an impact on my students. If they don’t recognize me, I feel bad. If they recognized me but choose not to acknowledge me, that is even worse. What did I do wrong? Was I a bad teacher? I must have been. I must be.
And that, as Hana points out, is the real problem: my own feelings of self-worth.
Hana looked at the situation from a different perspective: that of herself as the student.
For some unknown reason, I remembered how I had reacted when accidentally bumping into a former teacher of mine. I would either look away, pretending I had never seen him before, or I would smile broadly and say ‘Good morning’ merrily.
The fact that I would sometimes choose to look away had nothing to do with disrespect, dislike or ignorance; it had nothing to do with a particular teacher at all. It had a lot to do with my own self-esteem.
When I spotted an old teacher of mine long after school, the first thing that I pondered was whether he actually remembered me. It flashed through my mind that he had probably taught hundreds of students throughout his career and I concluded that he couldn’t remember us all. I deduced that I was probably one of those faces he could no longer recognize in the crowd and I decided to look away, robbing the teacher of the opportunity to show that he actually remembered me very well.
I have always seen myself as the person others forget. Why would anyone remember me? I expect to not be remembered, and I am seldom proven wrong. As a result, I often turn away from people I know and, as Hana says, deny them the opportunity to show that they do recognize me. Or, if I am being more honest, to maybe be reminded of how we know each other.
But I also deny myself the opportunity to demonstrate to these people that they have had an impact on my life, whether they remember me or not. That to me is even sadder. Because they probably would like to feel appreciated every bit as much as I would.
So thanks, Hana, for another thought-provoking post.