Students sometimes reintroduce themselves years after they’ve taken my class. I might randomly see them on the street or they send an email to ask a question. Often they enter that interaction tentatively and with a caveat. “I don’t know if you’ll remember me; I didn’t do that well in the class,” or something like this they say, suggesting that I have some ranked hierarchy or student memories. Perhaps the A-students have a dedicated shelf in my psyche, the C-students swept together randomly in a corner.
Truth is, I almost never remember the grades I give students. There was that one guy who got an A-, and I remember his A- specifically because he was so angry about it and blamed me for ruining his future by not rounding up and giving him an A. So I remember him, and I’ll watch out for him and make sure that I never have him as a doctor. I’ll make sure I go to someone who earned a solid B, instead.
But, like I said, I don’t actually remember if any other student from the past would have earned a B or anything else. I remember the things that are more important to me, like where you sat and what you actually did in the class. I might remember something you wrote, but more likely I’ll remember how you wrote. I’ll remember if you were kind. I’ll remember your colored pen set. I remember how hard you worked in the class, that you were there every day at a godawful time and in spite of your heavy course load. I’ll remember that you played basketball, but were generally benched and still had to practice and travel with the team. I might remember that your mom had cancer. I remember tattoos. I remember quirks. I remember that one project you completed or a conversation in my office. More often than not, I remember something random: you liked mechanical pencils or you worked nights or you had an addiction to Mountain Dew or you were finishing a degree in geoscience eight years in the making. Though mostly I remember where you sat, if you were kind, that you worked hard.