Forgetful Prof and Student Names

I am forgetful.  Yes, I admit it.

Being forgetful has caused much pain and embarrassment.  Like the time in high school orchestra where I had a medium length string bass solo and forgot to attend the concert.  Oops!

Important dates such as a family member’s birthday?  Forget it.  Remembering to plan ahead to purchase gifts or cards?  Nope.  Wedding anniversary?  Ouch.

My office is cluttered.  My desk is piled high.  My bedroom is, well, messy.  I tend to keep everything.

Mentally, though, I experience the peace of an uncluttered memory.  My mind is absent from key details needed to live life daily.

Fall semester classes at my university have been in session for 2.5 weeks.  My class sizes are small (20-30).  Yet I only can recall the names for about 25% of the students.  When classes next meet in four days, the 25% will have turned into 20%.

Professor Phil Jones at also has difficulty with remembering student names.  He tells this story:

I recently stopped by a local Starbucks and was greeted with a friendlier than normal ‘Starbucks welcome’ as I walked up to the counter. … [T]here was a familiarity to her face, but I just couldn’t place it.

She looked at me and said, “You don’t remember me do you?” Uh oh. I said, “Uhh, yea…umm…” in which she quickly replied, “What’s my name then?” Busted. “I was in your class!” she said. Of course, that’s why she looked so familiar, and the neighbourly Starbucks greeting now made total sense. “So, what’s my name?” she repeated. Damn, I thought that part was over. Trying to jolt my hippocampus into gear, I asked the obvious, “Uhh, what does it start with?” “K”, she answered. “Umm, and your last name starts with…?” was my brilliant rebuttal. “H”. Silence. “Karleigh…Karleigh H….!” she proclaimed. Yes, of course it was, and then it all came together and I remembered her being in my class. “So, what year did you graduate?” I asked her, in hopes of salvaging any hopes of a conversation. “Phil, I was just in your class…LAST semester!” …

As I walked away, I knew that she was probably thinking, “Holy sh*t, that guy needs another sabbatical!” I actually felt kind of bad about not remembering her name, mostly because I didn’t want her to think that I didn’t care whom she was, or to think that she was just a ‘student number’, which isn’t the case with any of my students, past or present.

I’m sure there are many professors other than Phil and me that have difficulty with remembering student names.  I’ll report back later if I have progress.

by David Albrecht



Filed under Faculty issues, Higher ed issues

3 responses to “Forgetful Prof and Student Names

  1. I think it’s impossible to always remember every student’s names. And also, how would a professor survive (how would I?) if we got attached to each and every one of the students every semester? It would always be hard to see a semester end. So I guess its ok, and also sort of self-protection, the not-remembering-names-problem. Also, I tend to remember the ones that really participate, the ones who help classes get more interesting or go well on tests (or the ones who did really bad because I also try to save the almost lost ones). It’s also up to the students to make their selves worth remembering. (But at the same time, I also wish I did have a terrific memory and remembered every single name).

    • Isabel, I’ve done pretty well this semester. I’ve learned all the student names at my 10:50 class (meets two times per week) and 1:40 class (meets two times per week. Well, I should say all except for those who skip class so often that I wouldn’t know who they are if they ever came to class. For my once a week evening class, remembering names is more difficult. I just don’t see the students enough.

      After the end of a semester, it is difficult for me to remember any names a week later. If I see them in the halls at least once a week, I’ll remember their name.

      Many years ago I went to a conference for new accounting faculty. One of the profs had access to every attendee’s picture and name, so he learned everyone’s name before his workshop started. He remembered my name for the next 15 years, despite only seeing me once every two or three years at a conference. I, of course, remembered his name forever.

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