Dear Marques

education, photography

Dear Marques,

Nothing but courage stands in the way of passing your midterm. You know the material. When I pose a question in class, your hand shoots up in the air, and that jolly grin I’ve come to know and love stretches across your face.

But I watch as a paper test is set in front of you – the same questions, multiple choice answers – and your confidence fades. Your test average in my class is a 42. If I could grade you on oral answers during my lesson, you would have an A average.

We’ve been working on strategies to deconstruct the test. You have the tools you need. All that’s left is for you to believe in yourself.

Breathe. Read the question. Cover up the answer choices. Write a response in your own words in the margins. Search the text for evidence to prove your answer. Then look at the multiple-choice options to pick the best of what they have provided.

Breathe again. You are smarter than the test. I believe in you! I need you to believe in you so that you can show yourself, your parents and your community how brilliant you are.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Jada

education, photography

Dear Jada,

Please don’t be embarrassed that you are hungry. I am so grateful you opened up to me in your letter. You’re right; your behavior has been irrational lately. Now I know why.

I can’t give you any cash for food. But if you look under the plant on my desk on your way out of class today, you will find an envelop with several important papers inside. The yellow sheet explains that your meal account balance has been paid, and you have enough credit now for lunch and breakfast this week.

I talked to Ms. Johnson about how to connect your mom with a program that will provide food every day that you are not in school over winter break. I know how hard your mom is working to provide for you, your brothers and your sisters. I also know this time of year is expensive, and our community has a program for families who are in a tough spot financially.

You have nothing to apologize for and nothing to be embarrassed about. As much as possible, I want you to focus on preparing for your midterms. Trust that the adults in your life are working together to make sure this winter break will be different.

You will not go hungry.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Candice

education, photography

Dear Candice,

As you sit down to eat lunch by yourself again today, I want you to know that you’re not actually alone.

When I was in 7th grade, I felt like an outcast too. For the first several weeks of school, I sat at a lunch table surrounded only by the frizzy hair shielding my flushed, embarrassed cheeks. I wore off-brand jeans and dorky t-shirts, and I participated in all the “geeky” activities. Apparently no one wanted to sit with the shy, weird girl.

One day, I scoured my fourth period science class for a friendly face, and I finally asked a girl named Joanna if I could sit with her at lunch. Shockingly, she said yes, and I started eating at her table every day. By the end of the year, I was still wearing similar clothes and fixing my hair in the same way, but I was much more confident, and I had a few friends.

I want you to know that life gets better. There are peaks and valleys, and middle school is certainly a low point for most of us.

Over the next few years, you will learn that you don’t need to change yourself to make friends. You’ll grow into who you are, and you will find friends who are equally weird, wonderful, smart and fun.

You won’t eat lunch alone forever. In fact, you don’t have to sit by yourself again, if you don’t want to. Look up. Smile. Watch for a new friend in class.You might just surprise yourself with how many people would love to have you sit at their table tomorrow.

You are not as alone as you feel right now.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Marcela

education, photography

Dear Marcela,

Teach me how to be brave.

I look to you when I start to feel overwhelmed by your classmates’ behaviors, and I admire your strength. The rest of the class might be in a state of chaos: talking, out of their seats, sleeping, or doing Lord-knows-what, but I always catch you leading from a place of courage and quiet confidence.

You must be frustrated. I can tell how badly you want to learn. I am exhausted, because I long to teach, but lately I’ve had to be more of a disciplinarian.

You are stronger than I am in so many ways. The class gets rowdy, and I fight the urge to cry, while I watch you just work harder. I start to yell, and I notice that you tap the shoulders of the students around you to bring them back to focus.

Thank you for being you in an environment where it would be very easy to conform.

It is brave to be a strong, intelligent young woman in middle school. While most of your classmates desperately seek to fit in, you are comfortable in your own skin. To know who you are and what you stand for is courageous.

I want to be you when I grow up.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Agustin

education, photography

Dear Agustin,

I wish you had told me sooner. I can only help you be successful to the extent that you are honest with me and you let me understand the complexities you are facing.

Pain cannot be silenced. He parades around in disguises when we try to hide him from others, but he will not go away until faced and dealt with.

Without knowing what was occurring in your life outside of school, here is how I described your first semester of 6th grade to your mom in our parent conference yesterday:

In August and September, Agustin was a solid B student. While not always intrinsically motivated, he responded well to reminders to complete his work and stay on task in class. He was pleasant, funny and had perfect attendance. Occasionally, he got a little too silly with his friends, but he would politely and respectfully bring it back when corrected.

 In October and November, Agustin’s grades slipped to low C’s, and he almost never turned in completed homework. He began to display an attitude of careless and reckless behavior. When corrected, he talked back, sulked or even walked out of class. He has not laughed or joked with his friends in his usual, carefree way. He skipped my class on three different occasions in the past month.

Agustin, I wish I could have had this conversation with your mom and your dad. But you and I both know that this is no longer possible. Your dad told me in August that he brought you to this country – facing incredible hardships along the way – so that you could have the best education possible.

Would he be proud of the way you are letting pain and sadness erode the gift he gave you?

Your mom told me that he has applied for a work visa. I am hopeful that you will see him again soon, and during the in-between time, I want to challenge you to make him proud with the decisions you are making. Act every day as if your dad is about to walk back in the door to be reunited with your family forever. Wouldn’t you want him to catch you on your best day with your best grades?

I can only imagine how traumatizing it was to see your dad taken from your dinner table. When those memories surface, I want to challenge you to stay. Don’t walk out of class. You can’t outrun the memory; it’s internal. You have to sit there and face Pain and show him you’re stronger. Channel that rage into becoming the smartest student and the fastest striker on the soccer team.

A student who has the courage to walk out of class has the strength he needs to stay and overcome.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Self

education, photography

Dear self,

Three goals today:

  1. Show up.
  2. Teach the objective.
  3. Be nice. Do not yell or cry.

You will get through this day. You will not worry about tomorrow or the next day or the next day. You will not give up on yourself or your students. They deserve to be taught by an adult who respects them and does not abandon them in a difficult time.

Half of the battle is showing up. Get out of bed, and get going.

Never, never, never quit.

Dear Amber

photography, education

Dear Amber,

You are my inspiration. Today, at the career fair, I was impressed with your passion and plan for your future.

Me: “Hey, I noticed that you talked to the visiting psychology professor for awhile. Is that a career you’re interested in?”

You: “Yes ma’am! I think it’d be really great to counsel kids in elementary and middle school. A lot of my friends have been having a hard time, and I like giving them advice. I think I’m pretty good at it too.”

Me: “That’s amazing. You have nearly perfect grades in all your classes – I think the last time I checked, you had averages above a 95 in math, science, reading and social studies. Is that right?”

You: “Yes. I really like school, and I don’t mind working hard.”

Me: “Well, with grades like that and an excellent work ethic, you should check out the University of Texas. That’s where I went to school, and they have a great psychology department. They do a lot of research, and it could be a wonderful place for you to get your degree someday.”

You: “Oh, Miss, I was kind of thinking I’d apply to Harvard…”

Shame on me! Of course you should be thinking about attending an Ivy League university. There is no reason you can’t consider Harvard as a very real possibility for your future.

I wanted to let you know that I emailed one of my mentors in Dallas ISD to find resources that will take your reading and writing to the next level. It’s never too early to start preparing for the rigorous coursework that any university, and especially an Ivy League school, will expect from you.

I’m excited to challenge you and support you as you work on this extra practice.

I can already picture the diploma in your hand, that gorgeous smile on your face and the cap and gown flowing as you stride across the stage some 10 years from now. It’s a long road ahead, but you won’t be walking it alone.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear M’adri

education, photography

Dear M’adri,

I am so sorry about your loss. I know how close you were with your grandfather, and in the brief time I got to know him from the carpool line, I always enjoyed his kind spirit and warm smile. My thoughts are with your family in this difficult time.

I know you are worried about missing work while you’re gone. I have attached the assignments you will miss to this letter. Part of your homework is to write an acrostic poem with the letters of your name. I made an example for you below. Feel free to use any of the words I chose for you or to change them.

M’ADRI – an acrostic poem

Mature – a leader, a reader, this scholar sets the bar. Her sensibility and hard work will get her far.

Athletic – She’s the school’s goalie, and one of only three, 6th grade ladies to make the final team.

Dyslexic – Owning her challenges like taunts from a rival, this scholar defies the odds of reading and writing survival. The experts say she will be reluctant to read, while she ignores their predictions and volunteers to lead. For her, it might be more difficult and take more time, but this inspiring student loves to make her poetry rhyme.

Resilient – Tough is her middle name; determination is her game. All she does is win, because she never gives up or gives in.

Intelligent – Admired by her peers for her book knowledge, no one doubts this scholar is on the path to college.

I hope you feel encouraged, because every word in this poem is true. I’m here for you when you return to school, and in the mean time, you have my phone number if you want to talk.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Consuelo

education, photography

Dear Consuelo,

On October 22 of my first year of teaching, I bandaged blisters on both of my heels after a long day of school. Physical injuries don’t last as long as sores on your soul, though, do they? When I think back to this day, I know that I would do it all over again for you if it would help your heart mend.

Making copies in the front office, I glanced out the window. Coach was instructing the class to run laps for the last 5 minutes of P.E. on the basketball court.

9:11 a.m.: I noticed an unusual amount of attention on you. Alex was red-faced, and I could even hear his voice inside.

“Come on, Consuelo!”

Concerned and curious, I finished my copies and walked outside.

“Again!” Coach bellowed and blew the whistle.

Each of your teammates started sprinting around the basketball court, except you.

Colin screamed, “Run, Consuelo, run!”

“What wrong with you, girl?” Jada yelled from across the court.

9:12 a.m.: Coach checked his watch. Mia was the last to stumble to Coach at the end of the court. You were still standing with your back against the chain link fence.

“We are one team and one family. We will run again until every single teammate runs a lap in less than 60 seconds.” Coach blew the whistle again.

Chaos swelled to a feverish pitch. I actually thought a few of the boys were going to post up and come after you. Suddenly, I found myself at your side. The tears in your eyes splashed onto my red wedges.

“Oh Miss, I’m sorry –”

“Consuelo, if I run this lap, will you run with me?”

I was nervous, unsure if you would move, and worried that Coach would make your class run until a fight broke out.

“We have 41 seconds left. Will you run with me? I don’t want to run by myself!” – I said.

Your eyes widened, looking at my shoes, my pencil skirt, and the clipboard in my hand.

“39 seconds. Let’s do this! Together.”

Yes, I know my hair looked “nappy” the rest of the day (thanks to J.J. for that description) and my outfit was a little wrinkled. But seeing you smile, just a little, through those tears and watching you work up the courage to jog alongside me made it absolutely worth it.

Now here we are, one year later, and you are still running endless laps surrounded by the agitated taunts of a new class of 11 and 12 year-olds. Where has your stubborn spirit taken you, Consuelo? You are still on that basketball court, only you’re 13 now, the oldest in the 6th grade. You cannot afford to drag your feet and refuse to work anymore. You did not perform academically last year, piddling with your schoolwork, and devastatingly, you failed every class.

When we divided up rosters this year, I requested you in my homeroom. We’re running this lap together, you and I, sixth grade, round two. This year, we’re going to run for the feel of the wind and the joy of hard work bursting in our lungs.

Right next to you every step of the way.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson