Tomorrow, I will officially begin a teaching position in a new district. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been moving into my office in the vocal music suite at Carl Albert High School. Throughout this process, I have unpacked several boxes, “pruning” some things (why was I holding on to my music history notes from undergrad?), and reminiscing upon discovering other things. During this endeavor, I came across a folder of cards and letters from former students, and even a few from students’ parents.
Obviously, these choice few trinkets meant something to me upon their receipt. Otherwise, they would not have survived my “waste now, less clutter” mantra. But I wonder if I viewed them through the same lens then as I do now, because I was surprised, moved, and in some cases heartbroken to read them.
There were several cards thanking me for helping them to become better musicians and singers. There were many that proclaimed my class to be their “favorite”, and expressed what the people in there had meant to them. There were a few drawings and pages from coloring books, carefully decorated, and with a loving dedication in the corner. A few pieces of folded notebook paper turned out to be apologies for falling short in attitude or work ethic. One was a confession from a student suffering from depression and several issues at home.
Several times in the past year to colleagues I have remarked, “I know less now than I THOUGHT I did ten years ago.” I’ll admit: I wasn’t always understanding about students’ lives outside of school and how it affected their performance in school.
Discovering those letters made me wish I could have been the teacher they needed me to be then. I wish I could have been the teacher they deserved all the time, for every child.
My blogging mentor, Rob Miller, posted earlier today a letter to the teacher from a student perspective. I’d like to turn that around now and offer you a letter to my students:
You are already a success.
There are things about you that are special. Maybe you know already what those things are. Maybe you don’t. That’s okay. I’d like to help you discover them. And if you already know, I’d like to help you learn to take those talents and make them skill.
I’ll be honest. It won’t always be fun in here. It won’t always be easy. And although I will strive to be fair, it won’t always be equal, because everybody’s different. It may take you longer to learn something new, or you may be helping your classmate catch on. We celebrate differences here. Without them, the world would be incredibly boring, wouldn’t you say?
Some days you may not like me very much. Some days, you may walk out of here muttering a few choice words about me under your breath. Those are the “tough love” days. Those are the days I probably gave you proverbial kick in the butt. Those are the days I show you how much I care by refusing to accept less than your best self.
And I do care. I care so much that I won’t necessarily stop thinking about you and your classmates just because you walk out of my classroom. I will still worry about you, I will still champion you, I will still make plans for you. I’m one of your biggest fans!
I want you to know that we will have some great days. There will be successes. But there will also be failures. Teaching you how to fail might be the greatest lesson I can impart upon you. Failing is a part of learning to be our best selves, and there’s no shame in it. How we respond to failure is a testament to our character.
More than anything, I want you to remember two things in my classroom:
1. While you are here, you are safe.
2. While you are here, you are loved.
No matter what, I am here for you. Because I am your teacher. Today, tomorrow, and always. Time after time.