A Letter from a Student
When I taught young children I used to receive short love notes from them all the time. They’d tell me that they loved me and insert a picture they had drawn just for me. Little kids would bring me an apple or a flower from their garden. I felt valued and appreciated.
I didn’t believe that would happen when I moved into the high school to teach. But I was wrong. I have 3 ring notebooks full of notes and letters teens wrote to me. There were, of course, some differences. Teens usually dropped a note on my desk quickly when no one else was in the room and then they’d make an exit through the classroom door as fast as they could. Once they believed I truly cared about them, they would pour their hearts out to me. They would write about a crisis in their lives. Or sometimes they’d write to tell me about something I had said or read to them during class and admit how it touched them or encouraged them.
I’m going to share (with the writer’s permission) one of those letters with you. This letter was written by Sarah. Sarah had become a single mom at age sixteen. She was 17 when she wrote this and had been in my classroom for only about 3 months. She was intelligent and caring, but she didn’t trust people very much. She dressed with a flair that usually resulted in her peers categorizing her as someone outside their circle. She might wear a black leather studded collar or bracelet along with a pink tutu on the same day. She had gorgeous strawberry blonde hair that women would pay hundreds of dollars to have created at a salon, but Sarah was apt to have a purple or pink stripe running through hers.
I share this letter humbly, not to boast about my relationship with students, but to help teachers understand what it is that our students really need. Read between the lines and listen to what Sarah desperately wanted.
Dear Mrs. Easley,
“I would truly like to thank you. You are a great inspiration to me and a great role model as well. You have done everything in your life that I would hope to do in mine. You have become an amazing teacher, one who truly touches the lives of many she comes in contact with. You have opened your own school and most importantly you are a dedicated mother to your own children even after they are gone.
Through life I have learned many lessons. I have learned that there are people who will enjoy hurting you, who will enjoy beating you down, who enjoy seeing you cry. But I have also learned you can’t let them stop you. You are your own person, you can do what you wish, you can be who you want and no one can stop you. Your classroom lets me be the person I want to be. You do not judge me. You see my intelligence, not my clothing, you see me. I have never had a teacher say they admire me before, when you did, I felt strong. I have never felt strong.
I’m sorry for the struggles you have had to face. Losing a child is hard. I hope I never have to learn how that feels first hand. But Kelsey would be proud of you. You have become so much to children of all ages. I know I am proud of you. I do not have a mother to fall back on. I don’t have parents that support me, I have ones that push. You encourage me; you know what I am capable of and expect me to show it and know myself.
I love to be myself, but sometimes it’s hard to do. You have let me know that you should never be afraid to be yourself. I hope I can instill that in my daughter. She has helped me to grow so much. How much she has helped me makes me realize why you are such a good teacher; you had your children to help you learn.
I truly hope that one day I can be like you. Just this short time with you has opened my eyes. At first I was not sure about teaching; now I know it is what I have to do. You are an inspiration to your students, Mrs. Easley whether they realize this now or not. You have instilled lessons in us that at this time may seem pointless but later will show such immense value. Thanks to your class. Thanks to your stories, I really know I can make a difference, like the one you have made with me.
I cannot entirely describe my gratitude through a letter so attached is a poem, one that I have written just for you, describing the feelings I hold toward you now.
A mother never wanted me
A family threw me away
I was lost in apathy
Not wanting to survive each day.
School became the home I wanted
Books my seclusion
Writing as my outlet
Loving the illusion
I may not fully thrive at this
But nor do I fail
I only use it to find myself
And with that I do prevail.
A classroom like this
Makes me feel unharmed
A place where I feel welcomed
Where I need not feel alarmed.
People welcome me everyday
Faces painted up with smiles
Giving me encouragement
Helping me through painful miles.
They do not know all my struggles,
But they have let me know
That they are here for me
To help me all the way I have to go.
You have helped me the most
Showing me encouragement and light,
Giving me a warming smile
To let me know what’s right.
Learning from your experiences
As I have learned from mine
Mothers and teachers alike
We are two of a kind.
I feel like I connect with you
We express ourselves the same
To others school is work
To me it is a game.
Nothing compared to the outside world
It is easy within these walls
You either succeed or you fail
Outside few hear your calls.
You have made me realize
I should learn as I go
Teaching me of both school and reality
I now know what I need to know.
Teens take writing notes to their teacher to a whole new powerful level. If you let them know that they matter to you, they will, sooner or later, make you aware of how much they appreciate your commitment to them. I didn’t read Sarah’s note without tears. Can you imagine how many times I’ve read it? On those tough days, it became a beacon to me. It touched me so much, that when I wrote my book TEACH…To Change Lives I included her letter in my book (after receiving her permission, of course). Using Sarah’s words helps me encourage teachers. It reminds them of the important role they play in their students’ lives. You see I honestly do believe that we teach to change lives.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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