The Once and Former Teacher: What I Want Students to Know One Year Later

The Once and Former Teacher: What I Want Students to Know One Year Later
Photo credit:   Rafael Sato

Photo credit: Rafael Sato

September 22, 2016, marks one year since I stood in front of a classroom. The other day, someone posted images and video from my former school’s homecoming celebration. A mixture of emotions hit me. On the one hand, I came face to face with the undercurrents of an identity crisis: I miss the kids, and I miss doing what I used to do. The other part was joyful: the students looked fine. They were a year older, and a year smarter, and a year taller. (You can measure height and intelligence in years in extreme circumstances.) After one year, there are a few things that I want my students to know.

I was lucky to be your teacher.

From the first day that you came into my classroom, I knew that I was lucky. I didn’t know your names, and I was still working out how I had come to teach so far from my own home, but I was pretty sure that fortune had something to do with it.

I was so grateful to your families for trusting me to be your teacher. Here I was – some young person they probably never met. I always made sure that their trust was well placed by always doing my best.

You taught me about my own capacity for unconditional love.

You could tell me you hated me, kick my desk, have a fit, fail to follow directions for the umpteenth time, give yourselves hickeys (You know who you are…), look up bad stuff on the mobile lab during research time so I’d have to give an oh-so-stern lecture, etc. It didn’t matter. I loved you anyway. Even if you bounced around my room like tiny entropy-creating machines all day, I would look into your eyes and know you didn’t mean anything by it. You were just being kids. Even on the rare occasion when you were trying to inflict actual harm, I always considered why, administered whatever consequence was set out in the discipline plan, and then everything went back to normal.  It didn’t matter how rough the day was. I still loved you.

I had/ have your back.

There’s lots of stuff that teachers do when they aren’t teaching. Sometimes I would have to speak rather firmly/ loudly on your behalf because sometimes grown-ups are hard of hearing when it comes to kids. They either don’t take kids seriously, or they get so bogged down in the system that they forget the human beings that the system affects. I'm not telling you this because I want you to think I'm awesome. I just want you to know that there are still people at school right now doing  the same thing. There are people sticking up for you and working to get you what you need. They are probably doing this without you realizing it. Never feel like you are entirely alone.

I may be far away, but I am still cheering you on. I still care.

Guests at the half-sleepover for reading superstars.

Guests at the half-sleepover for reading superstars.

I hope you are reading.

Whether I was sneaking Latin into a lesson or encouraging you to pick up a book, teaching reading was fun stuff for me. I know that not everyone is going to be batty about reading. About  a fourth of all adults in this country won’t pick up a single book all year. Even if you don't love reading like I do, I hope you like it a little more after my class.Even though we are far apart, I wonder if you are reading and what you are reading all the time.

You have something to contribute to this world.

Your presence on this planet at this time was no mistake. The fact that you are living and breathing matters. I feel like this is especially important for my first students, many of whom are now in middle school.

School may seem pointless, but remember that you can use what you are learning to change the world. Even if some aspects of history make you sick, or you don’t relate to the character in that novel, or you are pretty sure that you’ll never use that math again, knowing these things gives you a new perspective or enables you to articulate your own views. Try to look at the big picture.

As an “old person” I can tell you that I have forgotten more than I know, but I have never regretted anything I have learned. Chew up that information in a way that only you can, and then spit it back out at people bent on trickery, oppressive policies, and days of intense negativity. If you feel like giving up because you think the world is against you, then stick around to spite it. You matter. Don’t give up.

Water is life. You can use things that you learn in school to lay the intellectual smackdown on people that will try to tell you otherwise.

Water is life. You can use things that you learn in school to lay the intellectual smackdown on people that will try to tell you otherwise.

Being your teacher was the hardest job that I have ever done, but it was the best job.