It is a question all educators are asked by former students; “Do you remember me?” I’ve been an educator for over 20 years. I can remember most faces, but the names of many of my former students are falling out of my head at a rapid pace. Here is my excuse, 10 years as a classroom teacher with about 100 students per year, followed by 4 years as a middle school associate principal with about 500 students per year, followed by 5 years as a high school associate principal trying to learn as many names of the 1100 students as possible and now in my 3rd year out of the school building as the district technology director for 7200 students. The number of former students, time, and my age are 3 factors not working in my favor, but I always do my best.
Whether we remember our former students’ names or not does not matter, because our students remember us, no matter how much time has past. So, it happened last Sunday in church. At the conclusion of the service, I was approached by a man who look somewhat familiar, but recalling his name just wasn’t going to happen. He said, “Hi Mr. Schleicher, do you remember me?” I said, “Hello, sorry, but it’s been awhile, you are going to have to help me out with your name.” He told me his name and the memories of this student came back quickly. We’ve all had this student in our class or school; nice enough, but motivation to do well academically was low, assignment completion and grades both low, and his ability to disrupt class was often high. As a middle school educator, I didn’t always know the rest of the story regarding students graduating, going to college, finding a job, etc. Nonetheless, this student was eager to share; “I’m doing well now, head cook at a restaurant in town, coming to church every Sunday, I have my life together now.” I took this to mean that he went through some tough times to get to where he is today. I told him that it was great to see him, glad he was doing well, and was proud of him for working hard to get to his current position as a head cook. We shook hands, looked each other in the eye, smiled, and he left. My wife turned to me and commented; “did you see how happy he was to seek you out and share that he was doing well.” It was another reminder of the lasting impact we have on our students.
Later in the day, as I reflected back on our brief conversation, several thoughts began to scroll through my head:
- Our Handshake: As an associate principal, I facilitated a school-wide “rule of the week” from Ron Clark’s book, The Essential 55. Rule #33 was on the importance of a handshake and that is exactly what he did. Have even some of these “rules” stuck with my former students? In this case, yes!
- A Smile and Positive Attitude: I thought about George Couros’s recent blog post titled “A Simple Smile.” As an educator, I always tried to have a positive persona which meant smiling and greeting students (even if on the inside I may have been frustrated, stressed, etc.). I sincerely believe in the following quote from George Couros; “A smile can make someone’s day, can be infectious, and have a tremendous impact on school culture.” I am hoping my positive attitude was recognized and felt by my former students.
- Believing In and Not Giving Up on Students: Knowing how happy he was to share his positive story with me, while at the same time remembering that this student was challenging at times, I reflected back on how I handled challenging student situations. Keep in mind, I was a middle and high school associate principal for 9 years. Some teachers expected the associate principal to strike fear in students and administer severe punishment in order to correct behavior. My goal was to listen to the student first, maintain a positive rapport with the student, seek to educate vs. punish, all while still holding the student accountable. After a “chat” in my office and possible disciplinary consequence, I always told students that I would never hold a grudge and would continue to believe in them. This meant, I would greet the student in the hallway with a smile. I thought about Todd Nesloney’s recent blog post on “Why I Will Never Quit.” and the following quote; “I'm here. I'm present. And I'm going to stand tall, stand proud, and stand bravely for those kids who need me to. For those kids who have no one else willing to fight for them.”
Regardless of your position in education, the following should be our mantra every day:
I feel fortunate to have had many awesome conversations and encounters with former students and the one last Sunday was no exception. Thinking about the students in our classrooms and schools today, how do you want those students to remember you years from now?