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…
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.)
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),
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.