First Person

After 1,155 Hours Together, a Teacher's End-of-Year Letter to Her Students

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Dear students,

As the anticipation of summer draws near, I am not yet ready to end our school year together. As your 3rd grade teacher, I feel like I am just beginning to get to know you. It's been only nine months since we formally met, and we’ve had only 1,155 hours to spend together. In between all of the lessons, projects, tests, and homework assignments, I was also learning about you—who you are and who you have the potential to become.

I think back over our year and remember my initial misconceptions of you. Teachers sometimes base their interactions with students off of first impressions. In taking time to dig deeper—eating lunch and playing together, observing your interactions with others, and really listening to what you had to say—I not only learned how to unlock your potential, but how to enjoy your presence even in the most challenging times. As you leave my classroom for new adventures, here's what I want you to know.

To my class clown: I assumed you used humor to hide a learning difficulty. I was only partially right. You are one of my most intelligent students, with such profound comments and insights. You also happen to have a great sense of humor. I've loved listening to your voices when you read dialogue and laughing at your humorous fiction stories. I've enjoyed watching you work cooperatively to help your more anxious classmates relax.

To my quiet one: I watched you hesitate to speak, to raise your hand and share answers. I also watched you work hard, putting in tremendous effort to grow as a student and strengthen your academic skills. As the year went on, your voice became stronger and louder. You are a confident child with so much to offer and share, and I thank you for sharing your knowledge and teaching the class about all you've learned.

To my tattletale: I listened to many reports from you of what everyone else was doing when they weren’t supposed to be doing it. You thought it was unfair that they were getting away with breaking the rules. You made consistent choices to do the right thing. Keep focusing on making good choices for yourself and being the best version of you, and don't worry so much about other people. Everything else will fall into place.

To the one who's too cool for school: I thought you were going to give me a run for my money. School seems like it's your place to socialize and talk about video games and TV shows. But I have caught you learning and enjoying it. I've seen that you were often the one paying more attention than your classmates, shouting out the answers or whispering them to your friends. I've heard you singing during music class, despite questioning why you needed to go in the first place. I've enjoyed being a little sarcastic with you. Your reactions to my "jokes" encouraged me to bring more humor to my teaching.

To the one who needed to put in a bit more effort: I saw your eye rolls and frustrated body language every time I told you to "Fill in the white space with more color," or "Add more detail to your answer," or "Use complete sentences," or "Redo this assignment in neater handwriting." I also saw you follow my instructions and go back to put in that extra effort. Later in the year, your work became the higher quality I always knew you were capable of producing. I see your self-awareness and self-motivation. I see you'd still prefer to get away with cutting corners, but I love that you now try to cut them less often. The payoff for all of your hard work will be worth it.

To the one who always felt left out: You've grown so much. You learned how to include others and make changes within yourself. You've stopped blaming everyone else for choosing you last and took accountability for your part in friendships. That's a big life lesson for an 8-year-old, and you're in the process of learning it.

To the "mean" one: I know you think that you're mean and can't help it. That's not true. I see the sides of you that are sweet, kind, thoughtful, and loving. I hear you compliment others. I watch you pick up your classmate's pencil and hand it to her after she drops it. You are a kind person, pushing others away out of fear that they will see your shortcomings if they get too close. It hurts less to give others a reason not to like you. I wish you could see the wonderful things you have to offer and share them with others.

To my daydreamers and slow workers: I know it seems like you're not learning or getting anything done in comparison to your peers, but you're imagining, pondering, inventing, and wondering. Don’t let it get you down that it takes you longer to finish a math worksheet. You have so many other strengths. You shine in our Innovation Lab, creating amazing structures and inventions. You find ways to reconstruct landmarks, buildings, and ships while anticipating and troubleshooting obstacles. I wish I had more time to allow you to show us the brilliant things that the rest of us are not as good at doing. Keep embracing your sense of wonder and using your imagination.

To my attention seeker: I can see that you're hurting and there's stuff going on that is out of your control right now. I want to help you, so badly, feel loved and have a sense of self-worth. I can't make you feel anything, but I want you to know you're beautiful, athletic, and stronger than you think. You don't have to act tough to protect yourself from getting hurt by friends. Be vulnerable, open up, tell people your fears, and the other kids will want to be your friend.

I wish I had more time with all you to watch you grow into the best versions of yourselves. I gave you my all for one year, and I hope the best parts of my teaching will stick with you—the lessons about life, respect, and, most of all, kindness. I hope you remember me because I will remember you.

Warmly,

Your teacher

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