P.S. To Kill a Mockingbird rocks, right?

Dear Jack’s English Teacher,

Sorry for the generic nature of this greeting, but as of right now, I do not know your name. Or the names of any of Jack’s teachers. Not yet. You see, I’m dropping my son off for his first day of high school this morning and he won’t receive his schedule until after he arrives.

I assume this district policy seeks to minimize complaints or requests for schedule changes and I can appreciate the strategy since I also taught high school English for 16 years.

But don’t worry! This letter represents my official Parent’s Benefit of the Doubt—something else I appreciated throughout my tenure as a teacher.

Yes, I’m choosing to believe you are like I was:

Someone who pursued a career in education because she felt compelled to make a difference in kids’ lives; who tried every day (or at least most of them) to foster a welcoming environment. To inspire. To…

teach.

My main goal wasn’t assigning vocabulary lists, grammar exercises, pages to read or study questions to answer; I wanted my students to know I cared about them, to trust I had their best interests in mind, to believe I could move them down a path of skill-sets regardless of where they started on that road.

I hoped—perhaps selfishly—to be their favorite teacher. To make each hour interesting and invent new lessons. To modify my assessments while maintaining high expectations.

At the bare minimum, I hoped they wouldn’t hate English.

Did I succeed 100% of the time? Of course not. I saw at least 120 students each day and I couldn’t reach them all. But I swear I tried to. I did.

It’s been four years since my leave of absence and I still dream about teaching Dante’s Inferno and Act V of Hamlet, about reciting poems by Gwendolyn Brooks.

I presented my students with the words of others, then asked them to write their own words that applied. We had discussions. Arguments. They debated, proved, reconsidered.

They learned. I learned. And I freaking loved my job.

I was overworked, under-appreciated, inadequately paid. At times it was very, very hard. But it was also kind of an honor.

Kind of like being a mother.

Which brings me to the heart of my letter. The heart of my life.

Two decades ago, I began teaching other people’s kids; today I hand my son over to you.

I hope he believes you care. That he thinks you love your job and want to make a difference. I hope he understands you’re not perfect but that he knows you try your hardest every day.

You might find that he’ll try his hardest, too.

I realize it’s difficult. I do. These kids come with divergent needs and abilities, different languages and home lives. You juggle paperwork and websites, new laws and recertification; you manage kids and parents, administrators and coworkers.

It’s exhausting. I felt it too.

I faced tables stacked with Hamlet essays, Inferno projects and poetry explications. I sometimes woke up frustrated, tired, sick or moody. I was, after all, a human being first. Then a teacher.

But above all other things, I am a mother.

So I’m trusting you to try your best this year. Plus every year after that. For my son. For my daughter who’s coming next fall. For all the children of all the parents who trust you to try.

And if you find that you’re arriving at school more often annoyed and burned-out than energized and fresh? Consider a new grade level. A change of curriculum or campus. Another career entirely.

(Easier said than done. I know.)

And yet.

You didn’t accept a position in an office or firm. You committed to a career teaching children. You owe it to them. To your hard-working colleagues. To yourself.

Please. Whoever you are.

Try your best. It’s what all our kids deserve.

With sincerest respect (I promise you),

Jack’s Mom

This is Jack at his preschool’s Mother’s Day party ten years ago. I left my classroom during my prep period to attend. 

In related news, I could use a hug today as he starts high school.

Maybe.

75 thoughts on “P.S. To Kill a Mockingbird rocks, right?

  1. Awwwwwwwwwww! Happy first day of high school!

  2. My goodness, lady. I could have written this (if I had your particular & delightful way-with-words).

    I want my kids’ teachers to love them, their subject, all of it. I have high expectations for them, because I had high expectations when I was standing in front of that classroom.

    It’s hard to be on the outside. It really is.

  3. Di

    …and as wonderful a teacher that you were/are; you’re even a more amazing mother. I texted Jack good luck today…he will shine today and for the rest of his school days!

  4. I love this and I would love to write something similar to my son’s 6th grade teacher. He just happened to have her for 4th grade too. She always seemed more concerned about getting through the syllabus than really taking an interest in the kids. Once we had a conference with her to discuss my son and she was so rude a defensive about everything. I worry about him so much this year, being in her class, but I told him to show her what an amazing person he was and that everything else would just fall into place.

    Now I have never been a teacher before so I do not know how it is, but all that I can do us cross my fingers and hope for the best. HUGS!

  5. I adored 99% of my English teachers. You’re a good bunch.

  6. Julie

    Thanks for the hug, Jayme. I’ll need it!

    I can say – having been on both sides of the conference table – that most teachers really (REALLY) do care and want to do their jobs well.

    But oh, it is so hard to trust the process, isn’t it?
    To believe we all have the same goal in the end?

    Good luck to all of you this year as things “fall into place”…
    Your attitude is JUST RIGHT!

    And I’m sure your son will be absolutely amazing.

  7. Sue

    Big hugs to you Julie! I hope Jack has a great first day of high school (and you too.) See you at Back to School Night xoxo
    Sue

  8. ~~Dear Boring as Hell Teacher,

    If you can make Hamlet, To Kill A Mockingbird, & Emily Dickinson come “ALIVE” to my son, I shall jump for joy, kiss your painted toenails, love you forever! This is my dream. This is my delight. I want my boys to savor words, relish the classics, adore sentences!

    –Julie, this is (sort of) a letter I wrote every year to my son’s teacher, but still, the classes were boring, tedious, dry,unimaginative…

    Too bad they didn’t have YOU!! 3

    btw, Andrew LOVED “”Catcher in the Rye.””

  9. Jaryl Power

    Great one Julie, we are right there with you as we sent Tyler off on his first day of high school today too! I am sending a hug your way! I hope they like it, love it, or at least embrace it as the inevitable!

  10. Julie. I am posting this to my Facebook page. Both of them. Because soon I will have an announcement of my own. And these words are perfect. It’s what every parent hopes.

    My computer crashed, leaving me with irretrievable files.

    I know.

    I’m an idiot.

    I lost everything, including my book.

    Please tell me you have an external hard drive. If you don’t, please get one today. I love your words too much to have them disappear.

  11. Consider yourself hugged, my friend – and a margarita poured down your throat.

    I had the best english teacher ever for two years (junior English and AP English). She made a huge impact on my life. But then she got burned out and left teaching after we graduated. I feel sad for all the kids who didn’t get to have her.

    xo

  12. Sending virtual hugs until I can someday make them a reality should be meet in person.

    This sums up so much as I send my son off to kindergarten. I want the teacher that loves to teach, that will recognize who he is and teach him, not just shove the required curriculum at him.

    Supposedly Day #1 and Day #2 went well, although he was bored the first day and the pick-up traffic jam is a nightmare.

    I sent him with a book today. The rules say no toys from home, but nothing about books. I cannot help but notice how the book he picked (scholastics “Discover More: Technology”) is significantly above “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” that I was asked to question him about because they read it in school the first day (we haven’t read it in years, but he recited it perfectly, in order.. twice).

    I am warring with moving him to a different school, which has an IB program and enrolling him in the bilingual class. My concern is altering the routine he is already adapting to and pretty much ruling out the ability to walk/bike to school in the future. But they don’t even offer a foreign language at his school until middle school.

    How can we choose what is right?

    Do you think you’ll ever return to teaching? Teacher’s like you are such gems and what they all should be.

    ((HUGS))

  13. Christy

    Stop making me cry!!! Loved the picture…I have some similar ones…and I too left during my prep (or got someone to cover my class).

  14. cousin Heidi

    HUGS from afar.

  15. Jess

    Perfection.

    And my favorite teacher in high school was my English teacher. We went out for drinks at my ten-year reunion, he was THAT good. Something tells me you’re made of the same stuff.

    Here’s to surviving high school – I mean the second time around.

    Hugs and wine. Xoxo.

  16. I loved Mrs. Wright even if she wore her lipstick a full inch above her actual lip. I’m sure Jack would never let you get away with that. I hope he sits on your lap this afternoon and tells you about his day.

  17. Sniffle. I hope all of Jack’s teachers do these things and have respect and love for the kids. And that Jack has a remarkable time in high school.

  18. Oh HUG, you beautiful creature, you.

    I am stealing your letter for a) my sister who is a teacher, one who wants to make a difference, who cares and who really tries her hardest b) for myself when I have to send my babies into the trust of others.

    He’ll do good, your Jack.

  19. At least when your son needs help figuring out Shakespeare he will have an expert to assist him. My English teacher in high school was Daisy Norgart, we thought perhaps she was older than the hills, never married, and tough as nails. I learned so much from her, and I hope that my son gets an unforgettable teacher somewhere in these next four years too. Raising a glass of wine to all moms with kids starting high school this fall, and sending a hug and a tissue to wipe away your tears.

  20. High school. And you see me over here crying about pre-K3. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Surely I need to save those tears for when shit gets real because ninth grade — I can’t even imagine. I remember myself in ninth grade and, well, I am so not ready.

    And think of it this way: you’re the perfect person to help with his English homework. Also, every teacher needs to read this, to know that parents are on their side, we value them, we know that dealing with 20+ kids at once, none of whom is their own, is downright hard.

  21. Oh my goodness. I can’t even imagine what you are feeling today. Such a big step, so scary for him and you.

    Don’t you wish that somehow, she’d actually find this letter and be able to read it?

    Sigh.

    I am having a hard time getting over your kid not having his schedule until AFTER he shows up. That would give me an ulcer.

  22. As a teacher of high-school freshmen, I appreciate your plea, and promise all my parents and students that I will be that teacher. I just wrote about what a blessing my students are to me on my blog, 32in32.com
    Thanks for sharing your heart!

  23. (((((hugs!!))))

  24. So beautifully written. Touched my heart. Even though my two girls are still in preschool and elementary school, it reminds me to cherish these precious moments. Your post also makes me scared of the future – as we place so much in those dedicated teachers. So much. My eleventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Avery, changed my life forever. I hope you’re son has the opportunity to have a teacher that also touches his life and his heart.

  25. What a great post! I am thankful to Renee for sharing your post via her FB page.

    I connected with your words on so many levels, but above all as a mother. My eldest daughter began her freshman year in college last week, and oh, how I would have loved to shadow her through the halls and send notes to her professors reminding them of the power they hold in their hands. And oh, how she would have killed me! 🙂

    Just as I have had to do a every day as a mother, all I could do was say a prayer, trust, and release. So often easier said than done.

    Wishing you both a wonderful freshman year.

  26. Such a wonderful message for all teachers in every grade and subject. It would be interesting to see how Jack’s English teacher actually responded to it. I would think if she’s a good teacher, a letter like this would provide equal parts validation and motivation. And if not? Well, it would certainly make her think.

    It made ME think.

  27. Mommakiss

    Sweet baby Jesus a high schooler. God speed good woman, I’m hugging you in my bosom. In my mind, in my bosom.
    I read another post today about a teacher becoming so loved and cherished, the mom simultaneously loved and hated her. We want our babies cared for. Good teachers will do that.
    Cheers, mama. You need it today

  28. Hug. And how did Miss Carly fare? Did she get out of bed in a timely fashion?

    I have a friend going through sending her son to high school right now too – she’s having the same feelings you so eloquently just expressed.

  29. Sigh.
    Adonis and I were just talking about our disappointment in our child care provider and preschool teachers’ inability to engage and inspire our children. It’s a good thing high school is 10 years away, right?
    Also, my high school English teachers were why I pursued a Master’s in English. (Tequila might be why I didn’t finish.)
    Thank you for you, Julie and all of the students you inspired and the inspiration you provide here.
    Also, that pic? KILLING ME! Hugs to you… or any other way I can grope you.

  30. Nikki

    Dear Jack’s Mom, You rock.
    I’m getting all weepy thinking of my little one starting pre-school next fall and the fact that in ten years, he’ll be headed to high school.
    Bwaaaaaaa!

  31. Sherri

    Sigh…sending you that hug, and then a big, fat, ugly cry to go with it. I cringed waiting to hear about my daughter’s first high school day…how are the teachers, what are their rules, etc…

    Luckily she said, “High school is awesome!”

    Whew…for now. And I so admire that you taught and were passionate about it all, because some aren’t. And they should be elsewhere.

    xoxo

  32. Lovely, J, lovely.

    Today is my first day of school too. This is my 18th year in front of students. It’s lunch time. My feet hurt. But as I do, I’m riding on the energy of 90 eighth and ninth graders (though I’m looking forward to an epsom salt bath and a glass of wine this evening).

    🙂

  33. Having just dropped my Jackson (and Reese) off at this first day of school – this has made me cry.

    Again.

    Thank you for putting these words down. Above all, I hope they love them as much as I do.

  34. English was my favorite subject and I was fortunate to have a few great English teachers along the way who provoked and inspired us to think and dream. I’ll bet you made an incredible English teacher.

    A squeeze for you and a fervent wish that this will be a good year for your Jack.

    This post, letter is achingly beautiful.

  35. allison

    I’m sure Jack will have a wonderful day. . .almost as wonderful as it would be if he would cross town and come here.

  36. Jo-Anne Clough

    As a retired English and Reading teacher…..thank you. Thank you for caring for our children. Thank you for doing the best you can for other people’s children. We are not always appreciated. I am fortunate to sub at a school in Tennessee where the teachers care. There are still teachers out there who give their all. You made me cry in a good way. Bless you.

  37. Dammit you made me cry. Hard. In a ruin-my-make-up kind of way. Damn you can write lady. (Anybody ever tell you that?) You put onto paper (or okay, computer screen) what so many of us feel but don’t know how to say. At least not that beautifully, eloquently. I freaking love you and your beautiful, beautiful words.

    Oh how I wish you could have been (could be) my kids’ English teacher.

    Mwah!

  38. This makes me miss teaching sort of. While I love being home with my children, I do look forward to being back in schools when they go too. Though I’m not sure school librarians will exist anymore.

  39. Last year was so hard for me as a mother that used to be a teacher too. I wanted the teacher to like me, like my Biggest, speak to him with kind words and turn him into the best boy I knew within our four walls of a home. So hard. This year is/was no different… and you’re telling me it may actually get more difficult as they get older. Sigh.

  40. This was such a wonderful post. I have no words. Except…here’s another hug, my friend. Your boy is going to be fine. And you are amazing!

  41. kim

    Oh, Julie! This is so sweet and of course you made me cry…xooooooo

  42. Thank you for this. My daughter just started middle school and I already have so many complaints. But reading your post and knowing you have the experience of a teacher and still have high expectations helps so much. And yes To Kill A Mockingbird is something you can read and watch (even love the movie) over and over and over… Because the message really is to put oneself in someone else’s shoes and isn’t that what we want teachers to do too? THANK YOU!

  43. Unfortunately they aren’t all like that, like you. But there are enough of them that are, that try their best, that make that extraordinary difference in a child’s learning life – my child’s life. The others, well, if nothing else, it teaches my child to learn to deal with all types of people in this world. But it’s okay, because those great ones – they make him love learning, and that’s the success we all hope for.

  44. I feel like I’m on the verge of tears just looking at that picture. They grow up so fast. High school? My kids will be in high school before I know it. Like … next year or something.

  45. Hug sent.
    This is so perfectly written, what an amazing job you have done as a teacher and as a mother.
    xo Julie

  46. High School – so awesome. You’re an amazing woman, my friend. Love you. xoxo

  47. ::SQUEEZE::

    My baby’s got it easy this year, a return to the cozy classroom and preschool teaching team he had last year, before Kindergarten knocks on our door next year, just as my other baby (also Jack) will start High School.

    Thanks for summing up our hopes for our kids’ teachers so wonderfully.

  48. Cindy

    My Spanish teacher was my favorite. He did more than teach. He made the classroom come alive! And I don’t think he was human, because I swear he never had a bad day! He was an absolute amazing teacher. And an even more amazing han being. And oh yeah, he just happened to be your dad Julie!

  49. Jill

    I am guessing that there are many kids out there who are still remembering you as their favorite English teacher.

    I could not get my kids off my mind all day yesterday – to the point that it was hard to focus – first day of middle school and first day of high school – it’s crazy! I hope both Jack and Karly had great first days. Wonder if Jack and Jared may have even gotten any classes together 🙂

  50. EEEEEEEeeee.
    I guess time flies…right?

  51. ::Hugs::This was a great post for me to read three weeks into teaching at the elementary level. You’re right: it’s honoring, challenging, rewarding and requires much compassion. Hoping that your sone has a teacher wise enough to realize that.

  52. Amen.

    As for me, I don’t know how I would have survived the unkindnesses of high school, without my english teachers.

    They saw something in me and buoyed me up, when no other classes or teachers could.

    I loved them, and am forever grateful to them: Mrs Goyette, Mrs. Blondis. They were quirky, eccentric, unabashed, lived out loud.

    I loved them.

  53. I love this. I come from a long line of educators. All my sisters taught. My two oldest moved into the principal roles but have since retired. My twin sis teaches first grade. My brother-in-law too was a principal. It wasn’t a job I wanted. I did the stay at home thing but I sure respect teachers who work like the dickens and love their jobs for such little pay. I subbed a few times and came away with the realization you need at least $2/hour per kid. Seems fair. I think I made $70 a day back then. I knew subbing was not for me. I have a social work degree. The mobile home park ownership has worked out much better. My counseling skills have paid off time and time again. I has honed my kindness gene. 🙂

  54. I am behind on commenting, but I hope his day (and days to follow) went well!

    I love this:
    I hope he believes you care. That he thinks you love your job and want to make a difference. I hope he understands you’re not perfect but that he knows you try your hardest every day.

    Because that’s what I wish for teachers of my children. I can handle mistakes and problems and everything that comes along with teaching, but I hope they have teachers who care and try and want to be in the classroom.

  55. Oh this is so great. This is exactly what all parents hope for their kids. Great teachers rock!

  56. With your background you must have instilled in him a love of learning, right? Things are more caught than taught. My oldest left for college this fall. He never got very excited about studies in high school. Which was a source of discouragement for me. But now every time I talk with him he is very excited about college, he loves his classes and professors. Thank goodness it all works out somehow.

  57. Kim

    Thanks for this great post! I stole your idea and wrote a letter to my two sons’ new teachers. See, even though you’re no longer a classroom teacher, you’re still inspiring!
    Merci!
    From another “retired” English teacher,
    Kim

  58. I am absolutely at a loss for what to say here. For maybe the first time ever.

    I read this as if it was to me. I know I don’t have Jack, but I do have 150 kids like Jack. And very much NOT like Jack. But they are someone’s child.

    That is a very powerful knew realization that comes when becoming a mother after teaching for years.

    I see my students as babies now when I look at them.

    And I have already begun to pray for my children’s teachers. Is that weird? I hope not.

    Ok, so I guess I had something to say after all.

    You get all my hugs for the day, Jack’s Mom.

  59. Big hugs to you as he starts his high school career. What a beautiful letter, which I think I truly appreciate so much as a mother and a teacher. I would absolutely love for his teacher to see this letter, as I’m sure she would love what you have to say.

    The line “Two decades ago, I began teaching other people’s kids; today I hand my son over to you.” – I can’t tell you how many times I think that same exact thing. Being a mom truly changes how I teach, because I realize now how important each student is to someone, a mom and a dad.

    In all honesty, this letter gave me some inspiration for this upcoming school year. Good luck to your son!

  60. Kids first, curriculum second. Well said, Julie.

    Hope Jack (and his mom) had a great first week of high school.

  61. So eloquent! I come from a family of educators that would love what you have written. I want the same for my girls (9 & 12). looking forward to sharing your post on my Facebook page. Good luck to you and your son as he begins his HS years!

  62. Love this. I was a middle school teacher pre multiple children and I always try to be understanding towards what they have to deal with. And as I told my daughter’s 6th grade teacher last year (a quartet of “more experienced” teachers) I just don’t want her to lose her love of learning.

    Oh and a couple of weeks ago my ten year old son and I were in the bookstore (he is my reader) and he spotted a stack of To Kill a Mockingbird. He picked one up and said “Hey Mom this looks like a good book”. My little Language Arts teacher heart skipped a beat and Impromised him in a few years we would return for the book.

    I hope both your son and daughter had good first days at school!

  63. I love this. You put into words exactly what I’d probably like to say to my kids’ teachers (except I was never a teacher, so I couldn’t include some of those parts). We’ve been very fortunate with our girls’ teachers so far. I know that won’t always be the case, but I can hope. One of my high school English teachers is still my favorite teacher of all time – and she’s the one who introduced me to To Kill a Mockingbird. And didn’t get mad at me like a friend expected when she tried to tell on me for reading it all the first night when we were only supposed to read a chapter. I’ve never forgotten that.

  64. Ohmyheart sweet Julie. This is stunning and beautiful and has me all sorts of teary but in the best possible of ways.

    Of course I’ll hug you. Of course.

    xo

  65. Hugs for you! And I loved this. I am having a tough couple weeks with my toodler boy, and sometimes it helps to hear that others are experiencing new adventures or trials with their children. It helps to be reminded that my little guy won’t be this small forever, and that foremost, like you, I Am a mother and I adore that job; it is the most important job there is.

    But teachers are hugely important. How many times have I read or heard someone say, This teacher made such a huge difference in my life, because they cared and they helped. I am sure you have many people who remember you so.

  66. Wow. I absolutely loves this. Like you I remember grading 120 essays and sort of feeling sorry I’d ever assigned it. It IS hard to hand the kids over when we remember things from the teacher side, isn’t it? This was really heartfelt, Julie. A wonderful post.

  67. Congrats to Jack on his first day of high school! (EEK!) I’m sure he’ll be fine. Right…??

    Also, I wish I had you as a teacher when I was in school— you sound way better than any teacher I ever had.

    But I’m sure all of Jack’s teachers will be phenomenal! Right..???

  68. It goes by in a blink of an eye. Sheldon is graduating ASU in December and two weeks getting married and moving with her new husband to Cali.

  69. francerants

    Mrs. Walberg AP English, my senior year. She made a big difference.

  70. This brought tears to my eyes. We are years away from the high school stage, but oh how my heart aches for you as you enter this new milestone.
    What an amazing letter. This letter is an inspiration to me as a former teacher, a mother, and a person highly invested in the education of my son and others.
    I love this inspirational call to action and reminder about how important the role of a teacher is.

  71. I loved my English teachers most of all. And I’m so glad that your students had you as their teacher.

    As for Jack – LOOK AT THAT SMILE! He’ll charm even a cranky teacher into a better mood. Wishing you all the best this scary school year.

    XO

  72. I’m so sorry to be late to this very important ball game. I was sipping wine in Napa for my 29th birthday, AGAIN. Belated hugs to you, my friend.

    I remember that first day of my daughter’s high school so well. When I sat in my car, watching my sweet oldest girl disappear into the wash of high school kids, I thought my heart was going to crumble into a thousand pieces right then and there. In fact, I think it did.

    What a lovely, lovely letter. I truly wish all teachers could read this.

    My high school AP English teacher was Mrs. Middlestrom. She led us through Dante’s Inferno, a tough read for teenagers. But she was a skilled and captivating guide. I’ll never forget her. I wish for Jack, for all the teenagers, their own Mrs. Middlestrom.

  73. Hi. I’m a new follower from Twitter. I’m a former teacher, an amateur blogger, and a mom. I loved this post! I decided long ago that when I no longer LOVED my job, felt resentment, or negativity about teaching…I would leave. I owed it to my students and their families. It made me sad, but I made a change. It’s nice to meet you and I look forward to more posts when you can. 😉

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