As a teacher, there are ample opportunities for one to embarrass oneself. I’m in front of teenagers about five hours a day, every weekday, for ten months out of the year. In the past, I’ve always been worried about unstoppable bodily functions. I won’t go into specifics, but you get the idea. That’s always been my biggest fear. The point is, every moment is a minefield of possible mortification.
Today something happened that’s never happened to me in quite the degree it did.
Before I begin, though, let me provide a little bit of background information. We’re trying something new this semester called an “advisory period.” For old folks like me, it’s sort of like what we called “homeroom” back when we were kids. Theoretically, we’ll keep this same group of teens for advisory period every year that they are in high school until they graduate. It’s an interesting idea that I think could prove beneficial. Luckily, I’ve got an amazing group of students. They really are fantastic. Here’s the thing, though: I only see them twice a week.
Allow me to share just a bit more to help put this story in context. I’ve taught now for seventeen years. I conservatively average about 120 new students each semester. That’s 240 students a year, which means I’ve had to learn over 4,000 students’ names during my career so far.
That’s a lot of names.
Can you see where this is going?
So today I’m doing an activity with my advisory period kids. I’m running through the room, calling on kid after kid–no issues. And then I get to a particular student–a student I’ve spoken with on a regular basis since the semester started.
I drew a blank.
Now, this is not the first time I’ve struggled to remember a name during my time as a teacher, especially when so early in a semester. Usually, a second or two goes by, and it hits me.
Not this time.
I stared at the student.
He stared at me.
It got awkward.
I didn’t have my seating chart within reach. I wasn’t near my computer, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I didn’t have attendance up on my screen.
I kept staring at him, smiling.
I saw the realization set in upon his face that I couldn’t remember his name. A look of amusement in his eyes slowly turned to disbelief, then discomfort, then horror.
I peeked at the rest of the room and they all gaped at me. No one would come to my rescue. Though, to be honest, they might have thought I’d feel insulted if they did.
I told myself not to panic right before I panicked.
“Help me out,” I said to the young man. “Give me the first initial.”
Nothing. I still had nothing. I wanted to say “Nick.” I wanted to say “Nick” so bad, but the kid just told me “P.”
I briefly considered the possibility that he didn’t know his own name, that, in fact, I was right after all. I abandoned that hope almost instantly.
I could feel myself grinning like an idiot, trying to play it off, but the awkwardness grew unbearable. If you know me, you understand that’s quite a statement. I exist in a perpetual state of awkward. For the awkwardness to be so potent–so powerful–that it paralyzed me … well, that level of awkwardness might have killed a lesser man.
I had one more play. Just as I was about to make it a game, to have the class offer me some hints, the student in question had had enough. He called out his name to me–“Parker*.”
How could I forget “Parker!”
I apologized profusely to both he and the rest of the class. I joked about my age, how they can expect that sort of thing to happen more often from me. On the inside, I was mortified. I’ve never before experienced that level of forgetfulness in a pressure situation. I absolutely feel like if I’d stood there for an hour looking at him, I still wouldn’t have come up with his name.
The class laughed it off with me, but I could see it on their faces–as far as they were concerned, I’d aged decades to them in that moment.
I’m barely over halfway through my career, people.
By the time I reach retirement age, I’m going to be lucky to remember my own name.
*The students real name has been altered in the interest of protecting his identity.
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