I Don’t Recognize My Students

recognize my students

I want to blame it on the masks. But I know that’s not it. And if not them then the fractures that occurred over the last two years of school. But I don’t think that is it either. Or maybe it’s because I have tried, really tried, to prioritize myself outside of how I exist inside of my career, my school, and the system. But still, this only started happening once all three things began to galvanize. So now, I don’t recognize my students anymore. 


I don’t (think) mean my current students. Even though they also wear masks, we’ve been interrupted still by the pandemic, and I leave work at work on most days. I’m referring to the students who come back to visit. The ones that smile through their eyes when they come into their former school and visit me. Giddy and proud that they’ve sprouted inches higher or moustaches above their upper lips. Basking in, without mentioning, their new found fashion sense. Eager to talk about how small their old school now seems and how well they’re doing in their high school classes and, “remember SoandSo, remember when we used to alwayssss hang around each other? Yeah, we stopped being friends in grade nine but now we’re kinda friends again.” 


“I remember y’all were friends. Y’all were so close. Man, what happened in grade 9?” I asked. All inquisitive. I’m curious. But vaguely. I also don’t remember SoandSo by name, maybe by face I think. I’m also thinking about heading home and prioritizing me. I also really don’t really really remember who I’m talking to. I don’t know how it got to where I don’t recognize my students anymore. 


Ten years. That’s (only) how long I’ve been teaching students inside of classrooms. That’s how many years I’ve had a “homeroom” of twenty to thirty students whom I’ve taught a variety of subjects from math to music. Almost half of those years I had my own “core” students and taught a subject like science on rotary, seeing every student in that grade, every other day, for 196 days a year. And these days, more often than not, when former students come back to visit me, I struggle to recognize them. 


I’ve spent ten years pouring into something that always poured back into me. And it’s upsetting that no matter how hard I squint my eyes at them or tell one to show me their grad picture on the wall to help jog my memory, that, some of them––more and more of them, I still fail to recognize. For this long I’ve tried to teach them things but, more importantly, validate them. But when they come back and I don’t recognize my students anymore I feel like I am betraying them. Like I’ve somehow, ultimately failed them. 


But maybe I should start looking at the bigger picture. 

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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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