Dear Kids, Past and Present,
I started making notes for this letter in January of 2017, when I was first thinking seriously about leaving for grad school. So I’ve had a year and a half to work on it and there’s no excuse, but I’m still at a bit of a loss. Over and over throughout the past four years, with increasing frequency, you have broken my little heart and then mended it with your own unrestrained laughter and sincerity. I am tired, but somehow bigger, for it.
I have sometimes told people that if I’d known how hard teaching was going to be, I never would have done it. But I’m grateful I didn’t know. I’m grateful I went in blind, not fully comprehending that I would be teaching people, 317 young, mutable, full-of-life people, who would walk into my classroom and sit in front of me, bearing the image of God in bright colors, even on the days you were least aware of it and most resistant to it.
Here are the things I never told you (or didn’t tell you enough):
-Your value is immeasurable. But though it’s immeasurable, it is weighty. Sometimes when I am teaching, I feel it. Especially when you are quiet. I have sometimes simply stopped and sat still so I could listen as you worked. (I wrote a poem about this once. It’s called “An Ode to My Students’ Silence.”)
-I almost always took a stack of tests home with me over Christmas break, because I knew I would miss you, and seeing your handwriting would help.
-The greatest gift you have given me is joy. Your moods, of course, were not always consistent, but I have lost count of the days when your affection and energy overwhelmed me, when your effervescence dragged me out of some little slough of despond and made me grateful. You are funny when you mean to be and funny when you don’t.
-Earlier this year, Mrs. Johnson gave me a plant, and a week or two after setting it on the windowsill of my classroom, I noticed that someone had ripped one of the wide, flat leaves down the middle, but then done the due-diligence of fixing it back up with scotch tape. Every time I saw it I laughed, but I also found it weirdly moving, because this is all I have ever wanted from any of you: to take responsibility for your actions, to do your best with the resources that you have.
-Some of you never liked school: not in first grade, not now. That’s okay. Go to trade school, work with your hands, make good things well. This is far more important than most people are willing to admit.
-Your life does not begin when you turn eighteen, or when you go to college, or when you get your first real job. It is already going on and has been for some time. Your life is the here and the now. So, as Gandalf says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
-Teaching you has humbled me, and taught me about love.
I love you, and I will continue to pray for you.