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Six Words a Teacher Dreads Hearing: “I Bet You Don’t Remember Me.”

April 21, 2010

If you want to win friends make it a point to remember them. If you remember my name, you pay me a subtle compliment: you indicate that I have made an impression on you. Remember my name and you add to my feeling of importance.
• Dale Carnegie

I do try. I’m a teacher. I know names are important. I’ve read plenty of advice about ways to remember names and I can associate Barbara Greene with a tall tree (Barb is a tall gal) that has leaves with pointy edges (barbs!). Trouble is, I’m just as likely to call her Felicia Fir or Martha Maple, since the rationale for such memory devices escapes me pretty quickly, seldom lasting long enough to actually try them out in real life. I may still see the tree when I look into Barbara’s eyes, but I won’t remember why.

If you want to win friends, here’s my advice, and it runs contrary to Mr. Carnegie’s comments: Don’t make people play guessing games when you run into them in the supermarket or find yourself behind them in the long line waiting to ride Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. Introduce yourself. Don’t say, “You probably don’t remember me.” Don’t ask if you are remembered. Don’t do anything that will make the other person feel vaguely guilty or off balance when s/he can’t immediately recall who you are or where s/he knows you from. And for goodness sake, don’t be hurt or feel diminished or take it personally if your name doesn’t immediately jump off someone else’s tongue.

Say, “Hi. I’m Joey Albers-McMinnville and I was in your ninth grade English class eighteen years ago at Herman Melville High (Go, Whalers!!).” Let the conversation move along from there. You might even go on to provide context: “I was the one who accidentally destroyed the class set of Fahrenheit 451 with my book-burning demonstration.” Or perhaps not.

People change. When I see a former student at Wal-Mart or Target or Costco and s/he is fifteen years older than the last time we were together and now has children as old as s/he was then, I’m clueless. When I encounter students from five years ago, I almost always remember their faces, but often not their names, and sometimes, not even the context (which course they were in) of our relationship.

Be kind. Take people off the hook. Don’t feel bad if someone can’t immediately recall who you are. Even smart people can’t remember everything. Enrico Fermi, the Italian physicist known for his contributions to nuclear physics and the development of quantum theory, once said, “If I could remember the names of all these particles, I’d be a botanist.”

Some people remember names easily. Others do not. And even teachers who are good at learning and remembering names in the moment may forget them as years pass.

There are three things I always forget: names, faces. . .and the third I can’t remember.
• Italo Svevo

What do you have trouble remembering? What strategies do you use to aid your memory?

If I could remember your name, I’d ask you where I left my keys.
• Bumper sticker wisdom

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