Dear Catalena

Dear Catalena,

Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. They are grown people with their own thoughts, feelings and reasons for walking away from this marriage.

I am so very sorry that your parents’ relationship is breaking up. That you have to hear them fight when you are trying to do your homework. That you eat dinner in your room now, with your door closed and your music playing, trying to pretend it isn’t happening.

Many aspects of your life feel out of your control right now, and in most ways, you’re right. You can’t keep your parents together. You can’t prevent them from fighting.

But you are not completely powerless.

You have control over your own thoughts, actions and reactions. You can choose to bottle all of these emotions inside and let your friendships, grades and family life suffer. Or, you can open up to trusted adults and friends, just as you did today, and talk about what’s going on.

Your parents love you. Don’t confuse their pain with the lie that they no longer care about your well-being. Much of your world is shifting, but their love for you is unchanged.

I am here for you in this transition, and I want to be as supportive as possible.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Kallyn

Dear Kallyn,

Pie Day Friday is just around the corner! We need your brilliant brain and spunky spirit to win this competition. We can’t LOSE to 119 pesky 5th graders. They’d never let us hear the end of it…

We’ve prepared. We’ve trained. We’ve studied rhyme schemes and alliteration, personification and, of course, our favorite, hyperbole.

“Miss, I have a paper cut on my pinkie! I think I’m gonna DIEEEEEE!”

If we could channel the same angst that causes you to walk into my classroom every day and turn your desk away from the board, facing the wall, we could bring up our average to 80% or higher on the poetry unit exam.

Let’s take a look at the current standings.


  • 5th grade: 75
  • 6th grade: 72


  • 5th grade: 74
  • 6th grade: 78

The test on Friday is winner-take-all. The grade level that has the higher average gets to pie a teacher in the face. If 5th grade wins, I’m going to have a whip cream facial in front of the whole school!

We are so close to winning the poetry unit competition, but we need every student committed to this, or we won’t reach our goal. You with me?

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Rosa

Dear Rosa,

I just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Riveting and suspenseful, the book is one of my new favorites, and I would highly recommend that you read it.

One of the main characters, Werner, is a young German boy growing up in the shadows of Hitler’s Third Reich. Werner is a genius – an expert at fixing radios and solving math and science problems. His dream is to become one of Germany’s leading scientists, but as war ravages Europe, his plans must be put on hold, as he is required to fight.

At one point, his commanding officer, watching Werner repair equipment with brilliance and speed, remarks sadly, “What you could be.”

I had a moment today where the same wondering floated to my mind as you creatively and analytically approached the final details of your group project.

What you could be.

…If you dumped your deplorable boyfriend.

…If you hadn’t texted him a revealing picture of yourself.

…If you believed that you deserved more than a 12-year-old boy who would exploit you by sharing that photo with his friends.

What you could be.

An 11-year-old in healthy relationships her friends and her family.

A student on the path to college and greater opportunity.

A young woman who defies the stereotypes about “girls from this neighborhood.”

What you can be.

It’s not too late. You can still be all of those things and so much more than anything I’ve dreamed up for you. What’s holding you back? Do you believe you deserve more than this? That you could be, can be so much more?

I know you’re not facing Hitler’s Germany. But you are facing internal obstacles that are challenging nonetheless. More than determining whether you are in love with a young man, you are also learning how to love and respect yourself.

What you could be is ultimately up to you. Who are you today? Who are you becoming?

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Rodrigo

education, photography

Dear Rodrigo,

I have to admit, you were driving me crazy in class today.

Clink, clink, clink.

At first, I couldn’t figure out where the noise was coming from.

Clink, clink.

A glimmer of light reflected off something grasped tightly in your hands. Frustrated, I walked over to see that you were playing with a stack of nickels, dimes and quarters.

“Rodrigo, put the money away, or it’s going to be mine.”

“Eleven dollars, Miss!” You whispered excitedly as the coins clinked and clanked into a plastic bag. “How much longer until the book fair?”

Thirty-three minutes later, I watched as you and your classmates scoured the shelves of shiny books, dug through the junky pencils and erasers that look like iPhones, and plowed through piles of pens that light up and make noise.

“15 minutes left” I announced to the class.

You pulled a book off the shelf and leafed through it gingerly. Checking the price, I noticed you shake your head and put it back. You did this three more times before spotting the discount table. Snatching a book, you eyed it eagerly, and with five minutes left at the fair, marched proudly to the check out.

Clink, clink, clink. You counted out each nickel, quarter and dime with care and pride, beaming when you heard the total price.

“I still have six dollars and forty-one cents!” You cried and raced back to the poster section of the store.

You were the last student at the fair.

 “Rodrigo, we really need to go,” I stressed.

“Aha!” you exclaimed, pulling a burnt-orange University of Texas poster from the pile. “Ms. Jackson, LOOK! Don’t you love it?”

 I smiled, “Yes! It’s awesome. Now let’s hurry! We gotta get you back to class.”

“Wow, Miss, I even have 27 cents left over!” Without hesitation, you plunked the change in the donation box, becoming the only student in the entire school to donate so far.

We walked into the hallway.

“Here you go!” Beaming, you handed me the poster.

“Do you want me to hold this until we get back to class?” I asked, confused.

“No, Miss, I bought it for you!” You almost skipped with excitement.

“Oh, Rodrigo, that is so thoughtful, but you should really keep it! Your parents will probably wonder what you bought today. Didn’t they give you the money to spend at the book fair?”

“No, Miss, I earned it.”

“What do you mean? Is this your allowance?”

“Not my allowance. I help my uncle with his roofing business. He usually doesn’t have any cash, so he pays me in coins.”

This gift is so meaningful to me. Thank you for spending your hard-earned money on a poster for my classroom. I admire your generosity and am honored to be the teacher of such a hard working and considerate young man.

All my love (and Hook ’em, Horns!),

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Irma

education, photography

Dear Irma,

Thank you for helping me set up my classroom before school this morning. I enjoyed our conversation and am honored that you consider me a big sister.

I have an idea! Would you like to start staying after school with me on Wednesdays to talk about the changes that are going on at home? I know we didn’t have a lot of time this morning to talk about your parents’ divorce, and I want to make sure you have a safe place to process the important things that are going on in your life outside of school.

I am so thankful that you are in my class this year. You are such a joy to teach. Looking forward to Wednesday, “little sis!”

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Keenan

education, photography

Dear Keenan,

When you pretend to be what you are not, you become what you pretend to be. You are not a kid who doesn’t care about school. Unfortunately, when you played around on the reading diagnostic, you earned a score so low that you qualified for the Read 180 program. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great program, but you don’t need it.

In your attempt to convince your classmates that you’re cool, you took the easy route: playing dumb. Because of this, you will continue to attend Read 180 instead of staying in my classroom for morning advisory with the boys you are so eager to impress. Shaun tried his best on that reading diagnostic, and he scored above grade level. That’s not just cool, that’s admirable. He’s a leader for the right reasons. You could be too.

This program will reassess your reading level as you take weekly tests. I am challenging you to beat Shaun’s reading level by January. I dare you to be the best reader and leader the 6th grade has seen this year.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

P.S. – you should check out Walter Dean Myers. He has several books that I think you would enjoy reading. Start with Scorpions, and if you like it, try Monster next. Both books are in my classroom library.

Dear Jeremiah

education, photography

Dear Jeremiah,

I’m sorry I drank your Capri Sun. I was angry, and I was thirsty.

From the moment you walked into class, I could tell that you were being sneaky. I noticed an odd bulge in your sweatshirt and a mischievous look in your eyes. When I asked you if you had something hidden in your shirt, I could tell that you were not being truthful. You avoided my eyes, looked down at the floor and shrugged your shoulders.

Then, to my vindicated delight, when you stuck both of your hands in the air to symbolize that you were hiding nothing, the motion caused your Capri Sun to dislodge from its hiding place and slide to the ground.

Admittedly, I should not have picked up your Capri Sun, unwrapped the straw and slurped the sweet juice in front of you and your classmates. That was unprofessional and unkind. I took it too far, and I am sorry.

I trust that in the future, you will not sneak food or a drink into my classroom.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

P.S. – check your backpack after school. I couldn’t remember if the Capri Sun was Mountain Cooler or Pacific Cooler flavor, so I bought you one of each. Do not (I repeat do not!) drink these until you get home.

Dear Michael

education, photography, reading

Dear Michael,

You need to believe with every fiber of your being that you are an intelligent young man. I know that reading is a challenge for you, but that certainly doesn’t mean that you are “dumb” or “stupid.”

When I look at you – finger to the text, training your eyes and your mind to sound out the words you don’t yet know how to pronounce – I picture Jonas from The Giver. You have this ability to see beyond the words on the page. In some ways you’re limited by years of neglect from teachers who have passed you along without equipping you with the reading skills you need. And yet, every day I watch as you push yourself to overcome these limitations, gleaning the information you need to be successful from listening, observing, and applying your life experience to class.

Your comment in class today is a great example of your intelligence and thoughtfulness.

Me: “What makes Kira different from the other people in her village?”

You: “Hey Miss, could we say ‘unique’ instead of ‘different’? Different sounds negative to me, and Kira isn’t different in a bad way, you know? I mean she’s crippled, but she’s unique in good ways too, right?”

It’s not often a student who is reading on a 2nd grade level thoughtfully critiques a question I pose in class. You are a leader in my classroom, though I don’t think you see yourself that way.

When I call on you to read aloud in front of the class, I see you cringe with dread. But I also see Jerome, Lamar and Romone sit up straight in their desks and retrain their eyes on the story when you begin to read. Your courage inspires other hesitant readers to participate. The students in this classroom admire you. They want to do what you do.

Thank you for your leadership and your bravery. With perseverance and grit, reading will get easier. You will learn to read comfortably and fluently this year as long as you don’t give up on yourself and on the work I am giving you.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Isabella

education, photography

Dear Isabella,

You are no one’s property. Go to the restroom, and scrub those filthy words off your arm.

I’m less concerned about the Sharpie; it will come off with of lots of soap and water. What worries me is the meaning behind the words, and what this says about how you think of yourself.

Love is not ownership, and you are not a possession to be had.

Tonight for homework, I’m assigning you an extra myth to read. Not as a punishment, but certainly as a lesson. Write a five-paragraph essay answering the following question: According to the myth of Demeter and Persephone, did Hades or Demeter love Persephone more? Is it more loving to cling tightly to someone or to let her go?

You have a 98 average in my class after Tuesday’s test. You are too smart to believe that you are an 11-year-old boy’s property. If you will not hold yourself to a high standard, I will.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson