My work is far from over, but today was our last day of required attendance for the upper school students. Consequently, any actual teaching I have to do is officially over! But much like W, I’ve still got a bunch of loose ends to tie up, and then I’m going to leave the war for the next guy to fight.
I’m going to miss these kids and I’m going to feel a little guilty, but I promise I won’t be one of those people who runs screaming from the classroom, only to whine years later about how much I miss my children, boo hoo.
I did want to leave them with something tangible for the future, since I feel like my spoken words aren’t worth much to most of them. I started by writing a 1-page letter to the Rising Juniors, to serve as kind of an epilogue to their experience with me. Here it goes:
Dear Rising Junior,
I didn’t come to FAST to be the coolest teacher in the world. I came here with only two goals. My first goal was to show you that it is possible to always treat others with respect, even if they don’t act respectfully to you. And my second goal was to share my knowledge with you so that you can have some of the same opportunities that I have had. I am so proud of the progress that you have made since coming to high school. But there is a long way to go still.
I want to leave you with some pieces of advice for the second half of your high school career. First, work now and play later. I was once a teenager, believe it or not. I know it is fun to joke around in class. I know it is not fun to be the only person who is being serious when everyone else looks like they are having fun. But high school is short, and what you do here determines what opportunities you can choose from for the rest of your life. Spend less time having fun in class and more time trying to learn from your teachers. All your teachers work harder than you can imagine trying to prepare you for success. Take advantage of this opportunity.
Second, before you speak or act, stop and think. Seriously, take a second to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You have been hurt before, so why would you do that to someone else? Wouldn’t it be better to try to improve someone else’s life, rather than make their day worse? Most of all, listen. Knowledge is power, and the people—kids and adults—have so much to share with you, if you only take the time to listen.
This is your life. It is not a practice. You have to make the most of it now, because there are no do-overs. If you really want something, it is never too late to work hard and earn it. But nothing in this world is for free. You don’t have to be perfect. You are going to make mistakes. But if you learn from them and try to do just a little bit better every day than the day before, you will go a long way.
I hope you realize that I want only the best for you. I am hard on you because this world is hard, and I care enough to try and teach you what it takes to succeed. Believe it or not, I know a lot about a lot of things. I have had a lot of experiences that I don’t talk about in the classroom. If you ever need any advice or help, please reach out to me. I might be able to help more than you think, or at least I can point you in the right direction.
In addition, I spent three nights writing individual letters to every single student of mine. At first, I was only going to write ones for specific kids, but then I got on a roll and finished a class. And then, I just wanted to see the project through. Some chunks are repeated for different kids, but every kid got something individual. The full document weighs in at over 13,000 words. It’s one of my more ambitious projects ever. I distributed the letters after the kids took their finals.
I’ve got about 15 letters whose recipients never got them, because they either didn’t come to finals or they walked out early. But that’s just how teaching goes, you can never really expect 100% return on your investment of effort. Some of the kids really appreciated their letters, though. One kid said he was going to keep it because it is really inspirational, and that made the whole project worthwhile. Another one has already sent me an e-mail to stay in touch.
Also, as an activity to keep the kids busy after they finished their final, I had them write reflections. I’m so glad I did. I haven’t read all of them yet, so far they are really good. It’s amazing how introspective the kids can be when they have the opportunity to do something without the influence of their peers. With no one for them to show off for, I feel like I got a rare glimpse at most of the kids without the fronts they usually put up to protect their delicate egos.
Even the most difficult kids, with whom I had the worst relationships, refrained from bashing me, and the compliments were really heartwarming. Some of the kids didn’t hold back when talking about some of their issues or mistakes, which was really poignant. It makes me feel like I actually made an impact, after all. I think I’m going to have the whole set laminated and bound, and I’ll be sure to post some highlights. If the children could be so insightful all the time, it would be so much more of a pleasure to work with them. But I guess that’s why they are children…
Anyway, things have been quite eventful at FAST. Expect a flurry of updates, I’ve got a couple more in the pipeline even as I write this.