About 5 years ago I was packing up my Elementry classroom in preparation for my move to junior high. I was told that I would be teaching a “hard” group of grade 8 students. They had a reputation which often happens. I was warned. I am not a huge fan of those warnings. I think it clouds our judgment. We brace for the impact before even knowing it is coming. When I met the 8th-grade class they told me their past teachers hated them (not true but it was their perception).
As the year began I got to know all these unique little (at the time) humans. We read together, wrote together, laughed together. I was pulled aside that year by one of the Vice Principals of the school, certain I was in trouble for something. He let me know about a survey that the kids had to do and that so many of that rowdy “trouble” grade 8 class listed me as a person that they knew cared about them. I was not shocked they thought that because I did, I do. I was more shocked they wrote it down in a survey.
I didn’t get to teach any of those kids again for a few years. I still got to talk with them in the halls and visit in passing, but the classroom that we had built together was no longer.
This year I had the honor of moving up to teach 12th grade. My little 8th-grade students are all grown up. Preparing for life outside of school. We wrote a lot. They talk about their goals, their dreams, and their ideas. I find it is an honor to read the work they willingly share with me. There is a vulnerability in student writing. Like we get this little glimpse that they share of themselves that sometimes is not given voice. The worries, concerns, and uncertainty that the big unknown offers.
When I started teaching these kids I met artists, computer programmers, musicians, actors, singers, and athletes. They jumped right in with the hippie teaching ideas I hold so dearly and their work still sits in my cupboard in the classroom or scanned on hard drives.
I will miss them. They likely won’t see this, but I decided that as the year comes to a close and they get ready to graduate and take the next big leap I wanted to write them a little letter. So here it goes.
Dear Grade 12 Students (Formerly the Grade 8s),
I want to start by saying how proud I am of all of you. Your unique genius has been a gift to watch develop over the years. From the large-scale projects to the book talks to the notebooks and the writing I am grateful for the moments we got to learn with each other.
I have no doubt that you are going to go out into the big world and make a mark. You all have already done that for me.
Remember when things get hard, because they will, that you can do hard things. That you worked through a pandemic and got through a high school experience that was unlike any other. Remember that people have doubted you before and been wrong. They will be wrong again. Remember that there is so much more life out there for you to experience and breath it all in.
It has been such an honor and joy to learn from you these past 5 years. I can’t wait to hear how the next 5 go.
Congratulations on graduating. You deserve all the great things. Enjoy the next steps. Time goes fast. Trust me. It was just yesterday that we were going through a time capsule backpack or watching reenactments of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, making our own genre films, recording songs in response to stories… At least it felt like yesterday.