Friday night. We go out to dinner on Friday nights, and sometimes I see my students when we're out. Tonight, we went to The Yard House, and when we walked in to the very crowded waiting area, there was one of my current students, sitting with her boyfriend, waiting for a table. I immediately knew she was my student...but I couldn't remember her name, and I wasn't sure which of my three classes she's in.
Now, when I see a student out in public, especially if it's a student I don't know very well, I try to let her (most of my students are women) take the lead in making a connection. I figure that the last person some people want to see when they're out trying to have a good time is that professor that makes them do a lot of work. Tonight, though, this student smiled comfortably and enthusiastically when she saw me, so I smiled and returned her greeting. I immediately got embarrassed because I didn't know her name, and it was easy in all the noise and commotion of putting our names on the waiting list to turn away and avoid introducing her to Bob. We went to the bar to get a drink while we waited, and every now and then, I felt bad that I hadn't talked to her more because she was so friendly.
Then we got seated...and, yes, after we'd gotten settled and ordered, I turned, and there she was. Sitting right behind us. It wasn't awkward, though, as it's really loud in there, and she was engaged in conversation with her beau. They finished before we did, and I had my chance to introduce her to Bob as they walked by us to leave. She volunteered her name, very graciously, and it was quite comfortable. Nice. It felt good to have a student recognize me AND seem genuinely comfortable chatting with me for a moment in public.
About 6 or 7 years ago, I had a very different experience running into a student in public. My friend, Denise, and I went to an Aerosmith and Lenny Kravitz concert at The Save Mart Center. Lenny played first, and during the break before Aerosmith came out, we headed out to the lobby area to use the restrooms. As we walked, I spotted one of my current students walking toward us through the crowd. It was only a couple weeks into the new semester, and she was in a lower division GE course I was teaching. And, though I couldn't remember her first name, she stood out to me immediately because I remembered that her last name was Reid. She was the first student I ever had with my last name, same Scottish spelling and all. As usual, though, I nonchalantly looked away, trying to find a happy medium between not-being-rude-but-giving-her-room-to-not-have-to-chat-it-up-with-her-professor at a concert, of all places. When she was about 5 yards away from us, she suddenly stopped in her tracks, looked me straight in the face, and in a drunken slur, body teetering back and forth, pointed and yelled, "Hey! Hey! You're in my class!" Of course, I started laughing, and as she got closer and continued to try to figure out who I was, I finally said, "Well, actually, I'm your professor." She stopped dead again, and as the young man at her side held her steady, she stared deep into my eyes, struggling to focus and figure out who the hell I was. As the realization dawned, her posture weakened a bit, and she just said, "Oh...yah." Her friend, who was clearly quite sober, apologized profusely, explaining that she wasn't usually like that. Of course, I told him not to worry about it while she teetered there, still dazed-and-confused, and we then went our separate ways.
She had a difficult time looking me in the eye the rest of the semester.
So, yah, sometimes I run into my students out in public. And I try to give them some space.