At the beginning of each year I have the students write themselves a letter. They address it “To my graduating self.” I ask them to think about all the issues in their lives at that moment and how they think it will all resolve by the end of the year. I ask them to think about friendships and family, about school- work and other school challenges. I have them seal their letters in envelopes and I keep them until June.
Yesterday I pulled their letters out and told them they would get them back but first they had to write a letter to an adult in the school who helped them achieve the success they feel right now, who helped them to get where they are today. There were letters for a wide variety of adults in the building. Because I work in a K-12 school, there were letters for kindergarten teachers and first-grade teachers, even the security guard at the desk in the middle school/high school lobby.
One surprise was a letter I received. The surprise wasn’t that I got a letter. I always get a few each year. The surprise was who the letter was from. This student was not a stellar student. He struggled all year, missed deadlines, misunderstood assignments. He often needed to be reminded to refocus on class tasks and to stop playing/ talking with his friends. He actually seemed bored in class. I found myself tapping him on the shoulder very frequently to keep him from being distracted. His work was inconsistent which probably reflected the uneveness of his preparation for it; his vocabulary and reading comprehension very low. Yet there was something– an integrity, a solid moral center that grounded him, a genuine and sincere look in his eyes, that kept me working to move him, to push him. “I had a lot of school stress and trouble getting my work done this year,” he wrote, ” but you did not give up and brought a bright side to class. Thank you for helping me in that way….. If there were not teachers like you, I think my story would be different right now.”
Teachers have obvious power. I sometimes forget the subliminal, almost unintentional power we teachers exert. TD was a student I thought I had not made any real or meaningful connection with. How did I forget that every interaction counts, that every relationship has meaning? No miracles here but for the ones we can ferret out for ourselves.
By the way, the students’ letters to themselves were greeted with much trepidation, especially as many of them were addressed as “Stay as beautiful as you are” and “You are awesome.” They barely remembered the people who wrote those letters. They felt utterly changed.