Last year, I came across this really awesome blog post this guy had written to his students. I loved it so much that I printed it out and let my babies last year read it. Needless to say, it was a hit. But this year, I decided to take his post and model my own writing after his. So here’s my letter to my students.
It’s 10:30 at night. I’ve struggled for the past two hours to go to sleep. I am tossing and turning, unable to let my mind rest. Why? Because I am burdened for my students. Really burdened. I am so burdened that the only thing I know to do is reach for my journal and record these thoughts that haunt me long after I’ve left work.
This is what you really need to hear, 8th graders:
You need to know that I love you, each and every single one of you. I love those of you who make it incredibly easy for me to love. But I even love those of you who ask for love in the most unloving of ways. I love some of you maybe even more than you love yourselves. When I say that I love y’all, that means I care for your ultimate good—in and out of the classroom. And because I care about you as people, I must be honest.
Here’s the thing: I often times cry, either for you or because of you. And these crying sessions have gotten more frequent now that we are nearing the end of the school year and you are losing your minds.
Before I tell you why I cry for you (or because of you, depending on the day), you should understand the truth about your public school career. Despite what you may think, school isn’t really all about academic learning. It’s not about studying for tests or working really hard on projects to earn those good grades. Granted, good grades are admirable and definitely something you should strive for as a student; but grades and academics… That’s not what school’s all about.
The primary purpose of school is to teach you to deal with whatever life throws at you. Believe it or not, school is preparing you for “the real world.” Right now, the most difficult thing you may deal with is a forgotten locker combination or an obnoxious peer. But dealing with these instances is preparing you for life after school. You can count on it: you’re going to face far greater challenges than anything middle school can throw at you. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have times of extreme accomplishment and you’ll do things that give you a sense of self-worth, but you will also face adversity in your lives.
I don’t mean to scare you by saying that. Everyone will face trials, but it’s not the trials you need to be afraid of. What you need to be worried about is that you’re setting yourself up to fail at dealing with life. You are setting yourself up to be quitters. You are practicing throwing your towel in when the going gets tough. You 8th graders that I love and care for so much are quitting on me.
“Quitting?” You ask.
Yes. Quitting wears many masks.
Did you know that you quit on me every time you stare off into space during reading time? You also quit on me every time you forget your pen and ask to borrow one of mine. You quit on me with each homework assignment you don’t turn it or halfheartedly do.
But not only do you quit on me when you don’t do your assignments; you also quit on me every time you tell one of your classmates to shut up. You quit on me every time you roll your eyes or look at someone else in this classroom like they’re stupid. You quit on me when you let the world harden your heart.
Did you know that another way you quit on me when you question my authority in front of your classmates, when you doubt that I really do have your best interest at heart? It absolutely rocks me to my core when you would rather argue with me for the sake of argument than trust that I really do know the answers and I’m trying to help you understand them as well.
You see, my ultimate purpose here is not making sure you bring necessary items to class. The real purpose is you learning to be prepared, learning to plan ahead, so that when you have a real job in the real world you don’t get fired because you didn’t think far enough in advance to actually bring your work with you to work. It’s called responsibility.
The ultimate purpose of school is not to teach you to refrain from talking back to or sassing a teacher for “taking off points on your test” or telling you to get your butt in a classroom. No, my dear sweet children. The main thing that I so desire for you to learn is to respect everyone—even if you don’t necessarily like what you are being told. There are going to be times in your life when you are going to be angry and you are going to be disappointed. And you’re going to feel that sometimes you haven’t been treated fairly. Bowing to authority is not what I want you to learn; no, what I want you to be able to do is solve problems maturely. Because in the world beyond these school walls, you must not allow your emotions to cloud your judgement. You are going to have to learn how to handle difficulties with grace and class. It’s called maturity.
Ultimately, young people, I have a huge responsibility with you all. You have been entrusted to me for nine months of your life, and within that short period of time, I not only am required to teach you about the English language, but I also need to prepare you for life.
The reality is that your generation is going to be taking care of my generation one day. Let that sink in for a minute. One of you sitting right here could be my child’s English teacher one day. One of you could be my accountant in the future, doing my taxes. One of you could be my pharmacist at the local Walgreens, filling my prescriptions. One of you could be performing open heart surgery on me one day. The reality is that your generation is going to rise up and take the work force by storm. You’re going to be somebody one day.
But if you choose not to do your work to the best of your ability right now, if you choose to take the easy way out right now, those characteristics will transfer to other areas of your life, and they will stick with you. Do you see that it’s not just about you choosing not to do your homework? Do you see that I’m not a bad guy because I won’t let you leave the room to grab something you forgot? Can you see that the habits you develop even in middle school will carry with you for the rest of your life??
Oh, listen to me, 8th graders. You are deciding right now what kind of person you’re going to be later in life.
My greatest desire for you is that you would be upstanding men and women of integrity. And because I so desire to see you do the right thing, I am not going to let quitting be easy for you. I am going to challenge you, confront you, push you, and coach you. You can whine. (Oh wait, no you can’t. This is a No Whining Zone.) You can “get salty” with me. You can cop an attitude. You can shout and swear and cry. And the next day, guess what? I’m gonna be right here waiting to give you a fresh start. Why? Because you’re worth it. And because I expect great things from you.
So, do everybody a favor: Step up. No more excuses. No more justifications. No playing the blame game. No quitting. Just pick your head up off the desk. Put your phone away (before I lose my mind). And pull your crap together. Let’s do this.