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Chuck Brooks' column: What was your name again?

I am happy to announce I survived another parent/teacher conference event. Each round gets a little more uncertain for me, however. After 32 years of teaching, the memory banks are full, and they don’t deal well with new information.

One of the abilities I used to pride myself on was my memory. I could learn my students’ names in a heartbeat. Trying to see how quickly I could learn all of their names became a challenge. I’m talking about 120-some identities. I turned it into a game in my mind. I thought it was important to know them as quickly as possible. Why?

When I got to college many years ago, I was on a floor with about 30 guys. I’ve told you before I began in a dorm that had nine floors with two wings to each floor. Do the math. That’s a lot of guys. Life was not co-ed then. In the early days of the semester, we had a “wing” meeting. At the meeting, the Resident Assistant would lay out the rules of the floor and the dorm. We would also be visited by the Head Resident of the building. This guy chose to visit every wing meeting, so he could introduce himself; we would all know then who he was in case we would ever need him. With his visit to our floor, he went around our group of guys sitting in front of him, and he proceeded to name every resident and that resident’s hometown. I remember being in awe of this. How in blue blazes was he able to know that many guys without having met them, to say nothing about the location of their hometowns?

Absolutely amazing.

I know what that did for me, and I wanted my students to feel special by me learning their names quickly, so I could surprise them in the hall or at the football game or in the grocery store. We all feel a little more important when someone is able to call us by name.

However, those days are gone. Man, oh man, are those days gone! Try as I might, the memory is jam-packed, and there’s not enough room to learn names quickly to say nothing about remembering their names. Some students stand out for one reason or another, and I know them before they leave the room on day one. That can be good or bad, depending on the student. Then there is that population who comes in and keeps a low profile while they’re there. Learning their names becomes more of a challenge.

Consequently, when a parent shows up at the conference table and says, “Hi, I’m So-and-So’s parent,” I sometimes panic. Quick, Brooks. Who is So and So? Where does he/she sit? What does he/she look like? Think Brooks, THINK! It’s horrible. Seriously. I try every trick in the book to cover my inability to remember. If I’ve ever been found out, I’ve never been called out on it, for which I’m grateful. However, what’s a person supposed to do? Those of us who have been teaching for a while all experience this. We laugh about it because there’s not much else we can do!

I write the OnStage script each year. Many of you also know I emcee the show. With each passing year, I have watched my confidence level drop off drastically because of the whole memory thing. Granted, they are my words, so it’s a little easier to pull off the ad lib, but in the last few years, I’ve decided I just can’t rely on the memory. It’s too huge a venue with too many people each night hanging on my words, so I’ve resorted to note cards in my hand as I approach the stage between sets of music. I’ve lobbied for a person to sit in the audience with cue cards but to no avail. Geez. What’s the big deal?

The odd thing about memory is there’s no definite pattern to rely on. The first person to attend the signing of our book in December was a mother whose daughter I taught way back in 1982-83. The mother introduced herself and said, “You probably don’t remember my daughter, Kim.” Amazing thing was, I did. Immediately. Kim wasn’t high profile. I remembered her though. I remember what she looked like. Folks, that was 32 years ago! Rather amazing. And befuddling. And so it goes.

Oh well. I’ll continue to try to do what I can in the short time I have left. However, I’m grateful for phrases like, “Hey kiddo!” or “How’s it going, stranger?” Gets me through sticky times!

I had one more thing to share, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was.