Today is my last day as a student teacher at my high school. The students have a month of enrichment classes, and I have a month of professional development, but for all intents and purposes school is - as Alice Cooper would say - out for summer. And while I welcome the extra time to work on my own courses at uni (thanks, Aussie Boy, for tainting my speech), I find myself more than a little sad at this parting.
For all that I occasionally referred to them as "the little monsters," "my rebellious hellions," or (on one occasion) "F*CKING GREMLINS," I love my kids. I wrote them a goodbye letter and handed it out today. Some of it includes some "inside jokes" that you all may not get, but I think you can grasp the general sentiment:
About nine months ago, I wrote you a letter, introducing myself as your student teacher for English. It was the beginning of a year I never would have expected, full of challenges and surprises and happiness. But mostly a year full of you.
(Did you notice my intentional fragment?)
Now, I find myself writing another letter, wherein I have to say goodbye, and try to adequately express my thanks to you for allowing me to be a part of your junior year of high school. Somehow, I’m convinced that no matter what I say here, some of you will never realize just how much of a difference you’ve made in my life. I suppose I have to learn to be okay with that, and accept that I’ve done what I can to convince you. That’s what this letter is for.
It’s no secret that the teaching program at Stanford is very difficult. But throughout this year, you all have been the brightest spots in my day. No matter how stressed I was about my own work, I was always happy to be in class with you, because you could always find a way to make me laugh. (And, unlike the students of many Stanford colleagues, you never made me cry, for which I say, “ThankyouThankyouThankyou!”) When I got sick back in November and you made cards for me, they brought tears of joy to my eyes. They also made me realize how badly you needed me in class to keep Ms. D. from bursting into spontaneous songs. I hope I held up okay in that respect.
As I go forward with my life and career, I want you to know that I will never forget you, my first classes. It seems unfair in some ways that I was meant to be teaching you, and yet somehow I came out of this learning more about myself and who I am as a teacher than I fear any of you came out learning about The Scarlet Letter or appositional phrases. I also want you to know that I would love to hear from any of you, any time, for any reason. Want help on college essays next year? Let me know. Just want a friendly word of encouragement? Shoot me an email. Need advice and direction for your love lives? Well, you should probably look elsewhere for that.
I know some of you have decided my sarcastic sense of humor makes me “mean,” and I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with that. I don’t mind being the “mean” one. But maybe this letter will show a softer side of me, the side that gets all weepy at the thought of leaving you all to the cruel hands of fate and college admissions boards. If it doesn’t show you that side of me, well, then I guess you’ll just have to remember me as your hard-hearted English teacher, who constantly mocked you for seemingly no good reason.
Thank you again for such an amazing year. I will miss you all as we part ways, but I am taking with me more wonderful memories than you can begin to guess.
Sincerest best wishes,
I anticipate the students will have (or had - most of them have read them by now) a wide range of responses. Some have probably already thrown the letter away, because it really didn't mean much to them. Others I think may keep it forever, and may have shed a tear over it. And there are dozens more in between those two extremes.
When I began handing them out, many of the students asked if they were written personally to each student. I told them that unfortunately, I hadn't had the time to write to each student, and had written to them all. So many disappointed groans went up that I said, "If you want a personal note, bring me your letter at some point and I'll add a personal note." After I handed them out and returned to my desk, a line of 10 or more kids immediately lined up for personal additions to their letters. Surprised and a bit overwhelmed at how much additional writing I'd just assigned myself, I was still glad to do it, to give those kids the extra nod of attention they needed. Because I do care about them all, as individuals, as young people forming the future of this nation.
I realize it's easy to become disillusioned as educators, and to feel frustrated by our students' daily attitudes and behavior. But in the end, they need something from us, and it's not just grammar lessons or literary analysis skills. They need us to care, to notice, to support, and - most important of all - to love.
I'm sad to leave my kids, but I'm proud of how far they've come, and excited about how far I think they have the potential to go in the future. And if they take along a memory or two of Miss David, their English student teacher from 11th grade, well, then I'm honored to be so remembered.