Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dear Student: This Year

Dear Student,

You know, I really was trying to be productive today. It is a toasty 39℃+ (go do those conversions we learned!) this afternoon and I wanted to sit down and read a book. In fact, I started to, but you, and your peers, kept interrupting. I would read a few sentences, and then something else from this year would pop into my mind. Certainly this is not something that you had planned, it just worked out this way. It is funny though, the book that I was trying to start is titled What Makes Your School Something Special, and you all made this school, this year, something special.

I have told you in class that I previously taught elementary school and that this was my first year teaching middle school. If I am honest, it felt like this was my first year teaching all over again - except that I had more confidence, strategies, and overall experience this year.  If you ask teachers, there is always something special about the first class that they taught. And in that sense, you were automatically special. But you went above and beyond.

Every day, especially days that I was frustrated about something - and I know you could tell - you gave me something new to laugh and smile about. Not laughing at you, but laughing with you. There some challenges and tears throughout the year, for sure. But good luck finding a group of pre-teens going through puberty that has everything completely together as far as what they can control, not even including things beyond their control.

I have to say that I truly enjoyed going to work every day. From rainy day dance parties, to solar salt on the walls; Noah's Ark to campus-wide scavenger hunts; daily lessons to sharing about life's joys and challenges. There was a new adventure every day and I'm glad that each one of you was in my class, whether for a block or an elective. As we go farther into the summer, part of me wishes that we had another few weeks together, but you need to go on to learn and experience new things and I have heard that a break before the new year is good.

For those at the school who were not in any of my classes, you helped make the school special, too. I have never seen such a kind and respectful group of students, let alone an entire school of them, as I did this year. So many of you went out of your way to wave and say "hello", or "good morning". That is unheard of. I once went on a science camp trip with a group of students at the end of their 7th grade year, and one of the teachers had to explain why we greet each other and say good morning. Yet so many of you will not leave class each day until you have told your teacher "Thank you."

As you go on to the next level, I hope that you do not lose your enthusiasm for learning or your joy for life. There will be great challenges, but you can persevere through them. Please continue to be great role models for the next round of students; though you may not interact with them, they will see what you do and how you treat others. Above all, continue to be kind, to be compassionate, and to take care of each other, as you did so well this year.

As Mr. Rodgers has said, "You've made this day special just by your being you. There's no one like you, and I like you just the way you are." Thank you for being you and making this year something so special.

Your Teacher

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dear Student: Looking Back

Dear Student,

How are you? It has been a number of years since I've seen anyone from your class, but I still think of you all often. It's funny; every year that I have new students, one or two of them will have similar features or mannerisms that remind me of other students who have been in my class previously. At the beginning of the school year, while I am learning all of their names, I will occasionally call someone by the name of a former student. I don't do it on purpose; it just seems to happen.

The other day I found a letter that you wrote me. I was surprised because it wasn't where I usually keep letters from my kids; it was in a binder that I used while working with your class. Reading it brought back a flood of great memories from my time with your class: field trips, theme days, blogging, books that we read in class, and all sorts of other daily events.  I don't know if there was a specific reason that you wrote it, maybe Teacher Appreciation Week or the end of the school year, but it is still something special that I'll cherish, like a green apple candle. Reading what you wrote, I couldn't help but smile.

At the time, you wrote that I was the best teacher in the world and that you wished you could be in my class forever. Although you cannot be in my class forever, you will always be one of my kids. I know that may sound funny to people outside of the world of education, but I hope that one day you will realize the extent of "once my student, forever one of my kids". Hopefully you have had many teachers since then that are your favorites and you feel that they are the best teachers in the world. Teachers who are not only a joy to learn from, but who challenge you to think outside the box, to want to learn more. Teachers who inspire you to make the world a better place and encourage you through whatever challenges you face. Most importantly, teachers who care about you, more than as just a student, but as a person existing outside academia.

Remember as you grow older that just because something does not come easily does not mean that you cannot do it, or that you will never be good at it, or that you are not smart. Some things will come easier to others, and that's fine. Your value and abilities are not based on someone else's capabilities. Never give up and always put in your best effort. Occasionally you will become frustrated and discouraged; it happens to all of us. Get help if you need it, but push through and learn everything that you can from the experience.

I hope that you are doing well, that you are learning and growing into the amazing young person that I know that you can be. I hope that you are continuing to make good choices and be a positive role model for your peers. I hope that you are still have a kind and compassionate heart for others, even when it might not be popular. I hope that you realize that something you do, even something that seems so small, can change the world.

Wishing you all the best,
Your Teacher

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Dear Student: An Introduction

Dear Student,

Welcome to my class! While you may have heard things about me, you don't know me yet. But, soon, that will change. We will be spending many hours together this year, learning, growing, exploring, and challenging. I hope that you will see beyond what you may have heard about my class and get to know me, and it, from a fresh perspective. I will do the same with you.

This year will bring forth many great adventures and has the potential to be a turning point for your future. That is not to say that you were headed in a terrible direction before, rather that you are older and more mature than you were last year and I would like to trust you with increasing responsibility. You will hear me say many times - the more responsible you are, the more freedom and responsibility you will receive. I know that you can handle it, but am not sure that you realize that yet.

As part of our class, you are part of a family away from home. Here we help each other, care about each other, strive to help each other (including me!) become our very best, and occasionally, annoy each other. (Not on purpose, please.) Above all else, I want you to see this as a safe place, where you can be you, valued and accepted as you are, but challenged to become even more awesome. And that will not look the same for everyone.

You may feel that this is not your strongest subject area. That's fine. It doesn't have to be. But I do ask that you put forth your best effort, never give up, and ask questions when necessary. I commit to you that I will also put forth my best effort, never give up on you, and ask more questions than you would ever like me to ask. (Perhaps most frequently, "Why?")

This might be your favorite class or your least favorite. I may be your favorite teacher or your least favorite. Either way, my commitment to you is the same and I have the same expectations of you.

I am excited for this year to start and to see what we can accomplish together. I hope that you have a wonderful year!

Welcome to our class!

Your Teacher

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dear Reader: A New Year

Dear Reader,

Welcome to my blog. I had previously written here and then took a break. Then I tried again and I stuck with it a bit longer before stopping again. I enjoy writing, but as I have grown older, I have realized that it takes a much greater effort to make the time and schedule it into my week. Additionally, I need it to be almost silent when I read or write. Tell that to me as a student and I wouldn't believe you, but now I have a different understanding.

One of my favorite things to write, and read, are letters. Not as daily emails, but actual letters. Multiple times throughout the year I ask my students to write me a letter, whether to introduce themselves at the beginning of the term, to check-in throughout the year, or to reflect on the year and give me suggestions so that I can improve my practice for future students. At back to school night, I ask parents to write me a letter, introducing their child and telling me about their family. Many students and parents also choose to write to me on their own. Reading their letters, I am frequently awed by what they have to share. Far beyond anything else, these letters are my favorite gift from my families. Sure, gift cards are nice and I'll never turn down chocolate or homemade cookies (chocolate chip are my favorite, if you feel like baking). But so few people take the time to sit down and write a heartfelt letter that when they do there is nothing like it.

Thinking about that made me realize that in the wonderful field of teaching, we interact with students and parents who may never really know our thoughts and intentions. We are perceived (and sometimes misperceived) by the public.

I decided that I wanted to try sharing through here again and do it in the form of letters - while breaking many formal writing rules. When I Googled the term "Dear Student", a title I was planning to utilize, I discovered quite a few letters already written. The majority of these letters were from higher education and were quite belittling of their students. The letters that I found were not representative of my experiences and perceptions of my students and their families. Although that initially discouraged me from using the same verbiage, I ultimately returned to it in the hopes that I can contribute something positive.

These letters are intended to convey the sentiment I believe many teachers and administrators have regarding their students. They address some of the many situations that we encounter on a daily basis. Some of the situations are from my own experiences as a teacher, or as a student, while others are not. While I am a bit hesitant, as writing like this can easily be misconstrued, my hope is to provide a glimpse into something that so many have experienced, but few outside see.

I'm looking forward to sharing. Thank you for coming along this journey.

The Teacher