From Jatoria

education

Ms. Jackson,

Thank you for everything! You’re the best!! I know I never was a perfect student! But if we had never had our troubles or phone calls home, then I would have never grown this year! But any who, I still love you! No matter what!

From Franco

education

For waking up every day and coming to school*. For teaching us something new and preparing us for college. This is why I’m thankful.

*NOTE: The school’s name has been edited out to protect students’ identities.

Dear Alex

education, photography

Dear Alex,

I know our school day is long. I too, want to go home and take a nap around 3:30 every afternoon when we see kids from nearby schools skipping past our window on their way home.

But you and I both know the intentional reasons why we don’t dismiss until 4:55. You are safer at school during that often-grueling, additional hour and a half than you are wandering around Deerpath Park or walking past the McDonalds on the corner of Keist and Illinois. And, this extra time at school, when used for its intended purpose of character building and additional academic instruction, is essential for ensuring that you and your classmates are on a path to college.

However, when you come into my classroom at 3:30 for afternoon advisory and decide it’s a good idea to NaeNae around the room with an open sunbutter snack cup in your hand, you are not making a wise use of our extended school day.

The sunbutter dance move you invented today created a gigantic mess of sticky, brown goo all over my classroom blinds. Mr. Torres had to spend additional time out of his day to clean up after you.

I’ve already spoken with your aunt. She and I agreed that your actions in afternoon advisory merit a further extension of your school day tomorrow. You will help Mr. Torres clean after school until 6 p.m. to make up for the extra work you created for him today.

I need you to be excellent from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. I expect the best from you, because to demand anything less would be to teach you that the work we are doing together is not valuable.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Karah

education, photography

Dear Karah,

Overwhelmed by the nine short days until the STAAR test, I was crying in the hallway this morning. Inside my head, I heard the all-too-familiar chorus of accusatory voices.

“You haven’t done enough to prepare your students for this test.”

“They won’t pass, and it’s all your fault.”

“You can’t even get them to stay in their seats and stop shouting out in the middle of a lesson; how could you have imagined that they would be reading on grade level by April 22?”

Unexpectedly, I heard your voice cut through the clutter in my mind.

“Ms. Jackson, you ok? Why are you crying?”

I couldn’t begin to explain what I had hoped to accomplish in nine short months. How I repeatedly failed you and your classmates every time I delivered lessons that weren’t rigorous enough or relevant or interesting or even properly copied because I was too tired to make sure the pages stapled in the right order.

“Just allergies, Karah. My eyes are watering a little, but I’m fine.”

“Oh, ok… Are you allergic to bad behavior, Miss? Cuz I’m pretty done with the way they been treating you in 3rd period.”

In that moment, the angry mob in my head stopped to listen to you. I had to ask myself what I originally set out to do when I signed up to teach.

I wanted to foster genuine, transformative relationships with students who have so often been overlooked. I wanted my students to learn how to read, for goodness’ sake, and we still have a long way to go there, yes, but the STAAR test is just one measure. This exam is only a sliver of what a you and your classmates have learned in a year.

What about empathy, respect, and compassion? What about a true love of reading? The grit and tenacity that unfurls as you put your pencil to the scantron one more time, even if we both know your score is likely going to be lower than average.

I smiled and looked down at you, wiping away the last stubborn tear.

“Yes, the doctor says I’m allergic to bad behavior, and the STAAR test.”

Your eyes widened as you shook your head and giggled.

“You funny, Ms. Jackson. I hope you move up and teach us in 7th grade next year.”

The truth is, you deserve more than a teacher who is funny and fun. With the STAAR test looming, I have to confront the brutal facts that I was not a strong enough teacher to lead you, academically, to the place you deserve to be at this point in the year.

We didn’t make up the years of reading growth that needed to happen, but you did improve, academically and as a woman of character and integrity. Perhaps there is hope yet for the remaining weeks. I’m not giving up on teaching the TEKS you need to know for 7th grade or modeling character qualities that will carry you through your adolescent years, like kindness and courage.

We have much to learn and very little time. You with me?

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Malakai

education, photography

Dear Malakai,

Your actions in class today were unacceptable for a rising 7th grader. In fact, the choices you made would even be considered appalling if the children in my mom’s 2nd grade classroom acted in a similar way.

My rules are fair and consistent. I know that you feel like I was “picking on” you. Let’s review what happened, so you can understand why you earned a seat in lunch detention.

1. Stay in your assigned seat, unless otherwise instructed: When we have partner work time, you are not allowed to get out of your seat and wander around the classroom. Randall is not your reading partner. I have paired you with Angelique to encourage you both to become better readers and to help you stay on task.

2. Follow all directions the first time they are given: It is against school rules to eat candy during class. I was not being unfair or unreasonable when I asked you to return to your seat, throw away the Easter candy and to stop distracting the class.

3. Respect yourself and others: Saying “ok byeeeeee!” and waving your hand in my face was a disrespectful and immature way to handle your emotions.

I do not tolerate rude behavior in my classroom. It doesn’t matter if the disrespectful attitude is directed at another student, male or female, or an adult of any level of authority. You don’t get to choose whom to respect. I expect that we share a mutual respect in this classroom, whether or not we agree with a teacher, whether we are friends with a student or not.

I’m disappointed with the choices you made today. You know how to behave, and you are choosing to be willfully defiant.

I will, however, continue to show you respect and fairness, even when you choose to be rude and unruly. Part of being fair is following through with consequences. You broke three class rules today, and you will sit at lunch detention as a result. If you have further questions about what you did wrong and what my expectations are, I will gladly talk to you when you have calmed down and are in a reasonable state of mind.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear JaKorey

education, photography

Dear JaKorey,

Standing in your living room last night, I was overcome with conflicting emotions.

This was not the first time I had spoken to your mother; as you well know, we have frequent phone calls about your behavior. But, this was our most difficult conversation, and it had little to do with your actions in my classroom.

Looking around the crowded house, I could see that it was full of people, yet devoid of life. Death, in some ways, doesn’t discriminate. We will all pass on from this life eventually. But, if you’re a young, Black boy in the South, Death tends to come too soon and too violently.

I read the story in the paper yesterday, and I was saddened by the loss of yet another young life, before I knew his name, before I realized he was your brother.

“Student who skipped school Friday found dead in creek.”

An insufficient headline, capturing one poor decision, instead of his lifetime of choices and memories. Made me wonder how each of us might be remembered someday.

Despite his choices at the end of his short life, I grieve the loss of his potential. I mourn for you and your mother.

As we joined hands in your living room and bowed our heads to pray, your mother’s words filled the room with such passion and strength that I couldn’t keep my eyes closed. Lifting my head, I noticed photos of you and your brother standing in Sunday best, smiling. Glancing down, I saw your feet in socks that reached halfway up your shins; your left foot bouncing up and down, up and down.

Child-sized feet in adolescent socks. A smattering of photos, memories. Life and death.

You and I have never seen eye to eye. Your choices in my classroom have been far from excellent. I may often be frustrated with you, but I realized last night, with your hand clasped in my right and your mother’s in my left, that it doesn’t really matter. I’m not giving up on you. I care too much about you to let you slip through yet another year of school without a fire in your soul for the value of your own life.

Did you hear your mother’s prayer? She pleaded for all the little boys and girls at our school to be touched by the message of your brother’s death. She begged God to let her son, your brother, be the last student in this neighborhood to make a poor choice and pay the highest price for it.

My compassion for you is so strong that I will not be easy on you when you return. If you continue to choose inappropriate behaviors in class, I will be firm with you; I need you to understand that. I owe it to your mother, your brother and to you.

I can’t make decisions for you, JaKorey, and I can’t change the course of anyone’s life. I will, however, make it very difficult for you to do anything other than become the best version of yourself, as a student, a son and a young man.

I am devastated by the tragic loss of your brother. If you need space, quiet, time to process and heal, or a listening ear, I want my classroom to be a refuge for you.

Have courage. You are not alone.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

From Catalena

educationDear Ms. Jackson,

Thank you for asking me yesterday I was ok. Thank you for talking to me yesterday. Thank you for taking the time from your day to talk to me and to just hear me out. I have never been that open and honest with anyone before, and for me to talk to you like that, I think it was better for me. Ms. Dunlap already talked to me earlier. I think all of this is going to help me, so thank you.