Friday, August 10, 2012

Letters of Love

  A classmate of mine in the Evergreen Masters in Teaching (MiT) program named Monear said something I'll never forget. It was during our student teaching seminars where we would gather once a week and share struggles and successes of the week, and review our work on the ungodly project that went along with student teaching. Monear and I didn't agree on most things, I wouldn't ever say we got along well. But this was the most important thing I learned in my two years of teaching education.
  She said, "The great thing about teaching... is that you get to fall in love with 150 students. The only problem is," her voice cracking at this point from the stress and emotion of the work we're putting into countless hours of prep for student teaching, "it's really hard to be in love with 150 different people at once."
  This year I must be fortunate, I only have 75 students to fall in love with. I'll be honest, I don't find loving them hard. I find it a little too easy.
  My application essay when I was applying to the MiT program was focused around a discussion on how we care for those we help much more than those that help us. This realization I came to a few years ago was based around my experiences with the growth of my own daughter, and relating that to a distancing relationship with my own parents as holiday visits had to become less frequent and my own life more stable. The idea became clear to me that when someone extends themselves to help another, they have invested significantly more into the other person than the person being helped has invested in them. In this way the success of someone you've invested into of greater interest.
  I've spent the last year investing my life into 75 students, specifically the 25 of my homeroom with whom I average about 2 hours per school day with. They are 25 twelve year olds with interests ranging from hockey to Magic, and poetry to makeup. A very diverse, talkative, and typical group of 6th graders.
  In following with a tradition that I saw done by a Spanish teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma named Hannah Chin-Pratt, I wrote a letter to each of my students at the end of the year. These letters were straight from my heart. Talking about struggles I'd experienced working with them, great things that they've done, things I'd come to expect from them over the year, and areas that they've grown. It also included some final words of advice as they move onto middle school. Some were funny, some were direct, but all were heartfelt. Even while writing them, I ended up shedding more than a few tears.
  When it came time to give them to my students, I was pretty apprehensive. I wasn't going to wuss out and hand them out silently like a student passing a note in class. These were my feelings and if my students were going to learn anything it'd be to show how you really feel. I was going to pull each student up in front of the class, and read their letter. I started in the back of the alphabet. I told the first student how proud I was of him working on paying attention to how what he said would affect those around him, even if they weren't listening. He apparently spent the next period proudly reading the letter aloud to his next class, even though most of the students were there when I read it to him. The next student I told that no one can make her feel bad unless they let her and remember that sometimes you are the best at something but other people won't realize it. Her mother let me know that on the way home she broke down crying and was incredibly pensive for the rest of the night.
  And so the time went on, tears frequently streaming down my face, my voice cracking every few letters. But I read every student their letter. Told them I was proud, concerned, and that I cared about them. I showed them that I knew them, I was on their side, and that I loved them.
  My relationship with many students altered that day, but not totally. The next day some of the usual rowdy behavior showed up on the field trip; students were asked sit down, not scream, and spit out their gum as usual. But there was a certain shyness in glances I got from students; nods of approval from some of the boys. It was as if something intimate passed between us in that letter. They knew that I knew. They knew that I cared. Like a smile you share after a first kiss with a girl you're interested in, you know things are going to be different. Better, somehow. Knowing that they like you too.

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