Each year I write a letter to my seniors and give it to them on the last day of classes. I have done it since my first year of teaching. And I keep doing it, year after year, but this was the first year I questioned why. It’s been a long year for me, and for reasons not worth going into, I just didn’t feel I had it in me. I was exhausted, drained, and I didn’t think my kids would get much out of it. So last week, I sighed and declared to myself I wasn’t going to write one.
But even though I was firm in my declaration, I felt unsettled.
And I realized: I don’t write the letter for them. I write the letter in honor of my own high school English teacher who handed me a letter at graduation, a letter I still have today. It was thinking of him in my first year that inspired me to write that initial letter. And each year since, now understand it is my way to pay homage to him.
So at the last minute, I decided to write one. It says the same thing I always say: learn stuff, because the world is ah-maaaahzing, and if you can see the world through curious eyes it becomes so potent and energizing. Because of the lateness of the decision to write it (which also involves printing it out for each student with their name on it, stapling and signing them, adding something they filled out on the first day of my class, and throwing in two personalized business cards with different things on them… all in an envelope), I had to crib some of my favorite language from last year’s letter. And although I tend to have the same general message each year, this year I realized I was hinting at something new: there is something really sacred about knowledge, and throwing away opportunities to learn stuff is a choice you make… so go to college with your eyes on the prize.
I wasn’t going to post my senior letter this year, because I just felt it was rushed, I don’t think I got my points across well, and about 1/3 of it was cribbed from last year’s letter. I don’t know how writers do it! But today, a senior who I have great respect for, who I have come to know fairly well throughout his years at school, told me with such earnestness that he really appreciated the letter, and that he felt like there was something about articulating the passion of learning that his teachers felt that really was powerful for him.
I feel awesome that one kid sincerely took something away from me writing it. And that is enough for me.
PS. As a note to myself for next year: “Consider the senior letter theme next year to be empathy. More than anything else, you’re coming to recognize that empathy is something that we need to consciously work at. But if we keep empathy in the back of our minds as we take action or interact with others, we can lead a content and fulfilled life and help others along the way. It’s trying to understand where someone else is coming from, helping others feel heard. It helps keep us grounded and less self-centered, and reminds us we are part of a community.”
I too sometimes write a note to students at the end of the year. I do not write to seniors however. If I have a particularly weak group of students that struggle all year but make good strides toward overcoming their math anxiety I will write each individual student a handwritten thank you card for allowing me to be part of their success. And…..yes, empathy is by far the biggest asset any teacher can have.
You inspire me. What an incredible message. I found the visuals particularly striking and effective. At my undergraduate college there were a group of women known as “lifelong learners” who were allowed to audit classes for free. I remember thinking that it was funny or strange that they would choose to sit through the classes that I thought I “had to” take. I get it now. Thank you for reminding me of the joy inherent in the pursuit of knowledge. It is so exciting to think of all the things there are left to learn.
Awww, Anne, that’s so sweet!
Neat idea Sam and what is even neater is coveying to your students the appreciation of teachers, the value of books, the importance of knowledge and learning, and above all the fact that you cared enough about them to slice off some of your precious time to write the a letter. I lay my hat off out of respect and admiration!
Lovely! Inspires me to write a general letter to all my students, as this year I taught 4 sections of Algebra !
Writing that letter in a year when you weren’t really feeling it is the best tribute you could have ever given Mr. Parent. Way to keep your tradition alive!