At the end of each year, teachers often reflect on their learning and practice to note their successes and areas of improvement. I would like to use this blog to honor my greatest source of growth this year and to encourage other teachers to think about their own sources of inspiration and growth.
Once again, I am faced with the bittersweet ending of our time together. It is bitter to walk away from a community that has become close knit, but sweet to see all the personal and academic growth you have made in our nine months together. A friend asked me recently if it ever becomes easier to say goodbye at the end of a school year. Thanks to your smiles, enthusiasm and character, I had to tell her that it does not.
I want to specifically thank you for a few things that inspired me in our time together.
First, thank you for being patient and honest with me.
This year was the first year with new standards, new units of study and new grade level alignments for teachers all over the country. Instead of questioning my experimentation in our classroom, you went along with it and offered very specific feedback about what worked and what didn’t. You recognized what I had control over and helped me to make sure that those things were running as smoothly as we could make them run.
You helped me to see that you are capable of much more than I expected with incredibly complex text and thinking skills. You also helped me to realize what I need to learn so I can do better with next year’s classes.
Most importantly, though, you were blunt with me about what you need to learn to be successful 21st century students. You reminded me that you have many different post high school plans for your lives and showed me that your literacy has many new venues. You also made it painfully clear that you are not all going to pursue degrees in English literature and helped me to solidify my thinking about the importance of letting you have choice in your learning. I promise that I will take all that you have told me and bring your needs and voices into larger conversations about education.
Second, thank you for reminding me that it is important to take risks with you.
As I watched you tackle your year-long inquiry projects, I saw you create arguments about your ideas and prove those statements with concrete details. I was impressed by how excited you were when you were given the opportunity to explore your passions. I learned a great deal about organic and healthy cooking, stress prevention, tobacco laws for teens, domestic abuse prevention, the origins of the English language, jazz music, magic and the incredible variety of interests you all have. I got to see your hearts, your thinking and your care for the world around you.
Most importantly, though, I got to cry with you when you told your stories of coming out to unaccepting parents, your struggle to stand up to bullies, and your paths to finding peace after the death of a loved one. You moved me all while exceeding my expectations for what high school students can do with time and space to research and promote their ideas about ways the world can be better.
Finally, thank you for showing me hope for our future.
I am reminded every year how important education is because I see your eyes fill with wonder when you learn something new. I am also filled with a desire to make sure that schools work better for your varied needs and learning styles. It breaks my heart when I see you disengage. This year, you pushed me to figure out new ways to engage you in your learning. You have a voice that needs to be heard, and it is essential that the education system does better on your behalf.
I will be spending time reading and thinking this summer so that I can be better prepared for your learning needs this fall. I will have each of your faces in mind as I advocate on your behalf. I will continue to brag about how wonderful you are and will look forward to hearing your stories of learning and exploration when I see you again next year in the hallways.
I implore you, as always, to be safe and to make wise choices. Read great books, explore your world, get to know others’ stories and remember what we learned this year—that kindness and open-mindedness can take us much further than prejudice and snap judgments. As Bill and Ted once told us, “be excellent to one another” and, as you well know, you will find friends in places you never expected.
All my affection,
Other “letters to” by CTQ bloggers:
Dear third graders in North Carolina by Wendi Pillars
Advice to myself as a new teacher by Paul Barnwell
A letter to 21-Year-Old Me by Cindi Rigsbee
A “Dear John” letter to the state of Florida by Megan Allen