Open Letter to my Former Students...
Letter to my students…from your teacher
Disclaimer-all of the names in this letter have been changed to protect the identities of the students. As I tell my classes each year, every student who I have ever taught plants a seed in my heart that just keeps growing as I watch them grow up and hear their stories. If you are one of my former students and recognize pieces of yourself in this it is very likely I was thinking of you when I wrote it…if you don’t recognize yourself it may just be that I noticed things in you that you have not recognized in yourself yet…some of the people mentioned represent one student but many of them represent multiple students. I’m sending my love to all of you for the lessons you have taught me over the years. I have directly contacted any of you who I have written about who it may be obvious to others that I am talking about you. Thanks for giving me permission to publish a bit of your story.
You may remember me. I was your teacher at some point in the last 20 years. You may have amazing memories of me, the kind every teacher hopes that their students may have or you may have terrible memories of me, the kind every teacher fears. I have a message for you….no matter how you feel about me…that’s OKAY!!!!
I am fully willing to admit that I have countless heart-filled moments in my career, the moments that inspire teachers to keep teaching and fill our hearts with warmth and excitement but I also recognize that I have also had some moments where I made mistakes; the kind I couldn’t stop thinking about and was very hard on myself for.
Throughout my career I have laughed until my belly hurt and I have also sobbed and not slept all night long… and I have done these things MANY times. Over and over again…for the past twenty-one years. I fully recognize that I have screwed up. Sometimes more than others. Please know that whether we had good times or bad times together I learned and grew from all of those moments.
But here’s the thing…something that too often gets forgotten. Teachers are human. That’s just the way it is.
So…to those of you, who loved me as a teacher, know that I loved you too. And to those of you who disliked me as a teacher…know that I loved you too. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the lessons you have taught me over the years. Although I can’t write individual messages to each of you (believe me, I wish I could) please know that every single one of you has a place in my heart and in my mind…here are some messages to you, my students:
Thank you for teaching me that marching to the beat of your own drum is not only okay but also amazing. With your funny, quirky ways and your amazing sense of humour you taught me that it is okay to be unique, to be different. Your spark filled my classroom each day and made it a better, brighter place for all to learn. You are becoming an amazing smart young woman.
My message to you is… to believe in yourself and remember just how brilliant you are. You are going to make a huge difference in the world with your intelligence and strength…you already have.
I thought that I saw fear in your eyes when I ran into you outside of school. I’m sorry if you feel fear when you see me. I never went into teaching to make any child feel afraid and I want you to know that I never intended that. I just saw so much potential in you so I pushed you harder than I probably should have.
My message to you is… to keep fighting, don’t let anyone (be it a teacher, a parent, or a friend) dampen that fiery spirit of yours. You will change the world with that strong spirit. At the same time…let the adults in your life help you. Your mom is an amazing, smart woman who loves you so much. Your teachers care about you too. Instead of fighting against us, please work with us. It will be so much better for all of us if you do.
I’m sorry that I wasn’t more patient with you as your teacher. I learned A LOT from your teacher the following year when you were in her class…I went forward with more care and compassion after observing your relationship with her. Thank you for challenging me and making me want to be a better teacher.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that you have been through some major ups and downs in the past few years. It is so great to see your warm smile online despite those struggles.
My message to you is…to know that people care about you and love you whether you are crying or smiling.
You always came across as so confident…I’m sure there were times when you didn’t feel that way but thank you for teaching me to walk with my head held high and confidence in my step no matter what I feel inside. You also have incredible kindness in your soul. I saw it in you then and I see it in you now. You will make an amazing husband to a very lucky girl one day.
My message to you is…that perfection is a myth. I can see you constantly striving for it and keep trying but also be kind to yourself.
Your suspicions were right…I DID name my son after you. Sorry if it embarrassed you at the time but I hoped that my kid would be as compassionate as you are…and it appears that he is. My hope is that he will grow into as amazing of a man as you are.
My message to you is… please continue to pass on your kindness and share it with others.
I’m so glad that we have ran into each other and kept in touch through all these years. I’ve seen your beautiful pictures of you and your girlfriend living and smiling together. I heard through some of your friends that telling our parents wasn’t easy. Hearing this story reminded me of you as a ten year old girl who fought her mom tooth and nail to let her wear the same pair of jeans every day, and also of the 13 year old sweet heart who returned to the school at 6pm on a Friday night when you saw my classroom light on to drop off some freshly baked cookies. Those cookies and the hug from you were the fuel that got me through the last few hours of what had been a very difficult teaching week.
My message to you is…to keep fighting for what you believe in. It not only makes a difference to you but to others too.
I noticed you with your observant expressions and thoughtful ways. When you did put up your hand, I always got very excited to hear what you had to say because, you didn’t speak often, but what you did have to say always mattered and demonstrated your deep understanding of whatever we were talking about. There were nights when I would get home and realize that, in the busyness of the classroom, I hadn’t had a chance to touch base with you all day. Please know that it did not mean that I wasn’t thinking of you. I thought about you often and still do. There were times when I made you do group work and I watched you squirm…I always tried to balance that with enough time to work on your own.
My message to you is… please defend the rights of introverts everywhere with your thoughtful ways. It is important that introverts have a voice too.
I have reread the fiction story that you wrote, to my classes each and every year to help guide and teach them to be better writers. I’m so excited to hear that you are taking writing in University and am excited to read the articles that you have published. Reading your articles inspired me to pursue my lifelong dream of writing. It warms my heart to see pictures of you and your friend who you met in my class. I know that you changed her life on the first day of school when I asked for a volunteer buddy to show the new kid around and your hand shot up. I took my first round of marriage counseling right after you boldly announced to the class that your parents were in counseling and your dad had told you that all couples should get marriage counseling as a wedding gift.
My message to you is… to keep being bold…don’t dampen that…you are making a difference everywhere.
You made me laugh so often and your enthusiasm for learning created such an incredible classroom environment that year. Your positive leadership made the whole classroom come alive. We did a huge class project thanks to your suggestion of doing it and it is still one of the highlights of my career. I also let students do math on chart paper more often thanks to your enthusiasm for it! I know there were times when I gave you the feedback that I would like you to give other students the opportunity to share their thoughts more often.
My message to you is…please know that feedback wasn’t because I didn’t like your ideas. I loved your ideas. “Pat” just needed a chance to talk too.
It was amazing to see you embrace the lessons on Growth Mindset and to truly implement those lessons into your daily life at home and at school. Do you remember the boy who walked into my classroom for his very first IPP meeting at a new school? I taught you what it means to “advocate for yourself” that day…and it was so awesome to see you doing that with classmates and teachers going forward. You made such a fantastic poster teaching others about growth mindset…the lights on it really drew the attention of other students walking down the halls. More importantly, your actions and words taught others about what a growth mindset looks like.
My message to you is…keep using that growth mindset for the rest of your days and never stop learning.
I was saddened to hear you refer to yourself as dumb. You have a learning disability but you are far from dumb. In fact, you are one of the most intelligent students I have ever taught. You see the world differently. You are one of the most socially smart children I know. You understand science and connections that exist within nature and our world more deeply than most. Your art work continually blew me away. Thank you for helping me to truly understand that intelligence goes far beyond a persons ability to read and write and for challenging me to find new ways of assessing in order to gain true understanding of your amazing ways of thinking.
My message to you is to keep shooting for the stars. I am certain that you will do amazing things with your life. Your “disability” should not be called that, you are incredibly able.
I was devastated to hear that you passed away suddenly a few years ago. I couldn’t stop thinking about the young child with the kind eyes and old soul. You were an amazing artist; writer and athlete even back then. You also cared deeply about everything and everyone. I wish I could have somehow told you this before you left us. The world lost an incredible person when we lost you. I think about your sweet older sister and loving mother all the time and know that they worlds would be a lot less bright without you in it.
My message to you is…where ever you may be, I hope that you are in a happier place and know how many people are thinking about you and remembering you with loving-kindness.
I appreciate how you have reached out to me and been so open about the depression that you are dealing with. I’m very hopeful in the positive steps that you are taking to manage your mental health. I cared about you when you were first a student in my class and I still care about you now.
My message to you is…please get help from a professional counselor. You are so important to me as your former teacher but I’m not professionally trained in mental health. Please stop trying to fight this battle on your own. It’s okay to admit that you need help and to get that help. I really don’t want to hear the same tragic news that I heard about “Casey” about you.
You are a helper and a gift to all of your friends. I see your words of encouragement to your friends on social media who need the encouragement. You have always been one of the kindest, most positive leaders around. There is a reason why everyone wants to be friends with you and I love how you embrace everyone so openly.
My message to you is…please don’t forget to take care of yourself. It’s amazing that you are so wonderful at taking care of everyone around you but you matter too. You may not even be aware what a big difference you are making but you are!
To each and every one of you who have been a part of my classroom, thank you so much for all of the lessons you taught me. Thank you for your questions and understanding when I didn’t have the solutions. Without question each and every one of you have made me think and helped me learn. Today and every day I’m sending my love to you all.
Your former teacher