Just got back from a basketball game. We were playing a suburban team, and we really hung in there ... for a long while. Down by three at the half. Midway through the third quarter, our center put down a monster dunk to tie it up, and the small cheering section that came up north thought, wow, this might be it. Then ... the other team turned it up a notch, our foul trouble caught up to us, we started putting up air-ball three-point attempts, and we lost by 15. Still, it was a valiant attempt, and we have a shot at doing well in the city playoffs.
Since the team's doing well, fans are actually showing up. I'd say I saw at least 10 graduates, kids I taught three, four, five years ago. And here's the cool thing: Every single one of those kids came over and said hello. Seemed genuinely happy to see me. Whatever our troubles were in the classroom, if we had any, were long since forgotten. Another thing long since forgotten is their names. I remember the faces, even the ones that have aged decades in the past five years. I even remember the classes they were in. But the names ... It's weird to think that I spent a good solid year, maybe two, with so many young people at the turning points in their lives, and now they're gone. Gone from the school, gone from my memory.
Still, as my teacher buddy said on the ride home: "It's a real privilege to work with these kids." It really is. He was talking about the players on the team, and I agree. I teach a couple of the starters, and it's really interesting to see them in their element. They may sometimes struggle in the classroom, may be a little quiet or tired or want to goof off, but on the court, they're confident and mature. I have to remember to say something nice, especially to the forward who was something like 13 of 14 from the free throw line.
I teach about 141 kids this year. I say "about" because kids are still coming and going, I'm still making additions and subtractions on class rosters. It's a wonder I remember any of their names.
Another wonder is that I remember certain names from my very first year of teaching. Some kids just stand out like that, make that kind of impression. In 10, 30 years, if I see certain people walking down the street, I'll still yell out their names. Not all of them were the best students. Or worst. Or the most outgoing. Every once in a while, you just meet someone you really click with, and that person just remains in the brain. Anyway, I call out those names. And I'm sure they'll still call me Mister.
When I started teaching, the weirdest thing to hear was someone calling me "mister," especially walking down the street or in a store. Now, I can't imagine any of these kids, any of these graduates, calling me by my first name.
Anyway ... I think I'm having a moment. Don't mind me. I'm thinking about all those graduates I saw, how they've gone on, are well on their way to adulthood. And here I am, still stuck in high school. "You still teach there?" one kid asked me. "Yeah," I said, "and to be honest, I'm actually sort of starting to like it."