Senior Letters Made of Sap

Everyone is bringing food, and we’re going to play Apples-to-Apples. Monday will be the first time my calculus class will be doing something almost-totally non-mathematical (except for the one time we watched “Numbers” before winter break). I’m convincing myself that this is okay because I have the deluxe edition of Apples-to-Apples with blank cards; we’re going to be throwing in some calculus terms.

I work them hard, and they’ve met the challenge. So we’re celebrating on Monday, and we’re going to hear presentations of everyone’s calculus projects on Tuesday and Wednesday. And then: it’s over.
I didn’t think I’d be maudlin, but I am pretty much all sap at this point. I decided to write a letter to each of my senior students thanking them. (Well, ahem, actually I wrote one letter to the whole class.)

We often expect to hear thanks for our work. But as you well know, teaching goes both ways, and I wanted to thank my students for their work. Not just for their mathematical work in class and at home, but for their positive attitude and humorous good-nature as we fought tooth-and-nail against the beautiful beast that is calculus. Being a new to a school, and being a new teacher, was made so much easier because of them.

In the envelope with that letter, I’m including two additional things.

  1. Their first day’s homework assignment — this form which they filled out (stolen from dy/dan).
  2. A juxtaposition of two quotations about Nature and Wonder. Many of my students have their grillzs all up in the humanities. I am not trying to convince them to be mathematicians and scientists. But I want them to see that the two are not mutually exclusive. So I will be giving them the poem and quotation below the cut.

I wouldn’t let them get away with having no homework. So I’m leaving them with one final homework assignment, playing on the theme of “the letter”: write a 1-page letter to yourself a year ago, giving your “old” self advice on how to succeed in this course.

After the next three days, they’re gone.



  • Edgar Allen PoeSONNET — TO SCIENCE
    Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
    Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
    Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
    Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
    How should he love thee! or how deem thee wise,
    Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
    To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
    Albeit he soared with an undaunted  wing?
    Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
    And drive the Hamadryad from the wood
    To seek a shelter in some happier star?
    Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
    The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
    The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
  • Richard Feynman: “Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere.” I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination–stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light…. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter as if here were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”




  1. Thanks. I thought it was clever. Gets them to reflect, and then I can use it next year to show my new batch of kids: okay, this is what this last batch said they wish they had done. So take their advice!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s