One day during a class exam a couple months back I paused to look around at my students. They paid me no mind. They were working diligently, finding their way through the problems, struggling, succeeding, you know, the usual. During exams, I’m usually keeping an eye out to make sure the kids don’t feel the need to take a peek at their neighbor’s work. But this time was different.
I thought about who they are. I thought about who they’ll become in ten years. Will they be engineers? Marketers? Electricians? Marines? Teachers? Fathers? Mothers? I thought about their interests and hobbies: beat-boxing, track and field, repairing computers, TV, basketball, music. I thought about how they’ve grown and how they’ve struggled in my class. I thought about their personalities and insecurities. I thought about their families. It goes on and on.
In that moment, I felt deeply connected to them in a weird sort of way and wanted to share this with them. As a teacher, I’ve always cherished being able to share the human experience with my kids. Beyond teaching, beyond learning, beyond report cards, beyond learning objectives, beyond school. That’s how I’ve always tried to relate to my students.
So with all this racing through my mind, what did I do?
I wrote to them.
Besides, I couldn’t just blurt out all of these thoughts in the middle of the exam. Plus, even if I did, this would initiate a conversation – which I didn’t really want. Not only did they need to focus on their exam, but I wanted to share my thoughts in a one-sided manner. I wanted to express how I felt and not have them feel the need to respond.
I looked around and began writing short notes to an array of students. I placed the notes face-down on their desks while they worked. I wrote down things concerning their effort, how much they’ve grown, how I appreciate them, why I believe they’re awesome, and where I think they’ll be in the years to come, among other things.
Some students read the notes immediately while others waited until the end of the period. (Some didn’t even realize I put it on their desk.) Afterward, I didn’t get much reaction from those students I wrote, nor was I expecting it. One student passively said “thanks” while others simply smiled as they walked out.
After class, I felt whole. I conveyed my thoughts and feelings to my students in a way that was personal and direct. And writing allowed me to express everything in a way that I could never do by speaking to them either as a class or individually. I felt connected.
I didn’t get a note to every student that day, but during subsequent exams I have made sure to reach out to other students. Has it become a “thing”? I think so.
Writing these short notes has been analogous to Friday Letters. It’s all about connection. Connecting not for the sole purpose of bettering their grade or getting them to work harder, although those things can result from writing my students. Instead, it’s about sharing the human experience and connecting with someone else that just so happens to be my student.