Dear Student: When I Run Into You at Target in 10 Years, Remember This

It’s the final week of school. Let’s be honest: teachers are tired. This is a crazy week of grading, bringing closure, and keeping students from climbing up walls (joking, kind of).

And there’s something else. It’s ending relationships.  

We’ve spent 80 minutes a day together for five days a week. We wondered what to do when the sprinkler system went off. We caught a butterfly in the window and set it free. We talked — and talked — about that one chapter because we weren’t ready to let it go.

When I run into one of my former students, here is what I hope they remember about being in my class.
(Twenty 20

It’s not unlikely that we’ll run into each other again

It’s not unlikely that we’ll run into each other in the future. We live in a small town. A decade from now, I’ll be scanning an aisle at Target, considering a new moisturizer, and I’ll feel a person glancing over. “Mrs. T?” a voice will ask.  

I will glance at the adult next to me, and scan the Rolodex in my mind of faces, names, and years. 2020 was the year of Madisons and Maddys. 2015 was Kaitlyn. The Jordans came through in 2000. How old does this person standing next to me seem to be?

Your face will be familiar. Always. You have short hair now. Or a full beard. You might be a parent with small children beside you in the aisle.

Sometimes your name jolts into my mind when I look up from the rows of products in front of me. It’s Hailey. You were shy, quiet, and thoughtful. 

It’s Jacob. You were witty, a leader, and confident. 

It’s Rose. It’s David. It’s Lacey.

It’s . . . 

Sometimes I don’t remember it. “Hello!” I say. “You were my student! How are you?”

We chat for a few moments. I ask what you’re up to these days. You graduated college, and you’re a nurse now. You went into the military and are home for six weeks. You started working right after high school and moved to Colorado. You’re just home visiting your parents.

Sometimes you remember me well; sometimes you don’t

Sometimes you remember everything about our semester together.  

“I did that one project that you hung up for an example,” you say.  

“I met Jon in your class. We’re still friends,” you tell me.

Other times your memory is unsure.

“You taught English, right?” you ask. You are searching my face too.

Soon, your child pulls on your leg. The conversation slows. You reach for your shopping cart.

“It was wonderful to see you,” I say. We smile sincerely, and I turn back to the moisturizers.

The next couple of minutes is when I remember you best. My mind floods suddenly with pieces of stories that float and try to connect. You were in that boisterous class! You loved our poetry unit! Your name is Erin!  

Erin! I want to turn back and find you, to let you know. I remember you.  

Sometimes I remember a series of random things about you

Sometimes, random things about you collide in my thoughts: You always chest-bumped your best friend before coming to class. You loved talking about the battery life of computers. You had a horse named Chili-dog.

But you’ve left the aisle, I have more shopping to do, and it would seem weird to go and tell you. So I smile, happy that your name made its way to the surface. Happy that it mattered to me.

Dear student, when we cross paths at Target ten years from now, please know I am glad to have run into you. By now, you are likely heading to the check-out lane. You’re thinking about other things. You’re texting your spouse about dinner tonight.  

I hope you remember me as kind and fair and that you felt heard in my class

But if, by chance, you remember too — if, by chance, your mind jumps back a decade and you’re 17 years old, and you’re sitting in my class — then I hope this: that I was fair. That you felt heard. When you remember yourself in that classroom, you remember someone whose teacher was kind to you. I hope I was those things. 

You are part of a sea of faces passing through my hours, days, and years. But it is a sea that I jump back into every fall: an ocean of memories that make me love my job. 

They make me tear up sometimes and randomly burst into giggles. They make me wonder how you handled the things you did. They make me marvel at time. 

I feel honored to have been a small part of your story.

And I wish you well.

More Great Reading:

10 Ways Parents Can Help Prepare a Middle Schooler for 9th Grade

About Heather T

Heather has taught high school English for nearly 25 years.

Read more posts by Heather

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