Dear H, (Student Letter #4)

To help me be more critical and mindful of the bonds I’m forging with individual students, I write anonymous letters to some of my current and former students. This is the 4th post in the series.

Dear H,

Yesterday afternoon, after school, as everyone tripped over themselves in a mad dash out the building for Memorial Day weekend, I quietly sat down to read my Friday Letters. Before penning any of my replies, I glanced through all of the letters, noting who decided to write this week. There were about 10 letters. I saw yours, and looking forward to reading it, placed it on the bottom of the stack.

After replying to all of the others, I finally got to your letter. It was written on a full sheet of paper, which was unusual for you, and it had a pretty traditional fold — halved three times. You started the letter with a brief response to my letter last week and thanked me for playing some good music during class. Then you grabbed me.

You were upset. You have written a Friday Letter every week since the beginning of the school year and you were upset that, because the year was coming to end, you would soon no longer be able to write them. You also mentioned that you have been felt seen this year. Not as a student, but as a person. You said that you appreciated my untraditional approach to teaching and how I work hard to get to know and support my students. You were bothered that in a month I would no longer be your teacher. There was more, but you know that already.

Before even finishing, I stopped. Feeling a surge of emotion preparing to swallow me whole, I looked up. Hoping to steady my thoughts, my eyes found the window and I focused on the balcony of a high-rise building in the distance. My mind couldn’t help but race through the challenges I’ve faced this year in reaching my students. Several key moments surfaced, along with several students — including you.

Through some stackable moments, I’ve gained so much perspective during the 2018-19 school year. I’ve openly shared this with y’all during class, but through my conversations with y’all I’ve learned to perceive my students so much more deeply than in the past. Heck, I perceive myself way differently, too. Mostly, though, I’ve been able to acknowledge and welcome the emotional side of teaching and learning, a side that the system says can’t and shouldn’t exist because our intellect should always be front and center.

But to hell with the system.

I’ve found myself attached to y’all in ways that are unlike anything I’ve known before. I’m bound to y’all through the human spirit, through love. A parental sort of love, one that extends beyond the Do Nows, uniforms, and exams. And this has changed everything. Like no other time in my career, I consciously deliver my authentic, flawed, sensative self to y’all each day. And I’m getting the same thing in return.

I’m so damn proud to be your teacher.

You should know that with this increased closeness has come earnest self-doubt and questions. And they cut deep. Mostly, I’m unsure about whether I’m in the right. Like, what purpose am I serving? Are my energies hitting the target? Am I too ambitious? Do I initiate conversations that are too aggressive, too forward? Should I be more practical, just like so many of the other stolid teachers that I feel so distant from? Should I play it safe and just teach? Does my personal responsibility to y’all even matter? Am I fighting a losing battle? Can I even make a difference, especially when there are so many factors that are outside of my sphere of influence? Despite all of the hope that I pour into room 227, my glass often seems empty.

I’m rambling. Sorry. My point is that, despite my haphazard uncertainty, your letter gave me faith that I’m fighting the good fight. You nudged me away from practicality. You assured me that my efforts to be an agent of change — to work passionately to understand and mentor y’all far beyond your abilities to create exponential models — have not been trivial. In short, your letter was so important to me. I needed it more than you know.

I did manage to finish reading your letter and write my response, but not without a couple deep breaths. Thank you for being so kind. Thank you for the inspiration. You have been a wonderful student this year, but an even better human. Know that I’m a significantly better teacher — and person — because of you.

Talk soon,

Mr. P

One thought on “Dear H, (Student Letter #4)”

  1. Mr. P,

    Aristotle once said, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”

    The education system is the root of the problem for a student’s growth. Because of the system, teachers are confined to Aims and Do Nows, while students go to class everyday to write, memorize, leave for their next class, and repeat. We try to listen but we never really hear. This is because we’re not placed in environments where we feel challenged, understood, and comfortable all at once.

    Why does it have to be this way? Why do these norms have to exist? Well, they don’t have to. But I’ve never really met anyone who chose to defy them. That is – until I met you. At first, I was confused. I didn’t understand why you cared so much – about your students, about teaching, about anything and everything. It was startling because it was rare. It shouldn’t be rare. It shouldn’t startle me.

    You always welcomed us to class with energy and enthusiasm, even if you weren’t feeling so good. You didn’t have to do that, but you did anyway. You always gave us something new and unexpected. That’s something I always loved about your class. It wasn’t about lecture notes and listening to one monotone voice for 45 minutes. Instead, you stepped back as much as possible. You let us lead the class. You gave us the opportunities we needed to grow.

    So, you’re not wrong. I was upset. I was upset because there aren’t enough teachers like you. There aren’t enough teachers out there who spend their Friday afternoons writing to their students, who share books with us, who integrate real life topics in classes where no one would ever utter a word about them.

    There aren’t enough teachers who want to challenge the standards forced on them. So, thank you for being the change. Thanks for exploring what everyone wants to stay away from because they’re too frightened of being different. You inspired me, and so many others. I know you’ll continue to do so.

    This comment is becoming way longer that I intended, but what I really wanted to say is keep doing what you’re doing. And most importantly, do it your way. I wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors. Thank you for an amazing year and thanks for this letter. See you soon. :)


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