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.
Thank you for your bravery and honesty today. It takes strength of character most people have not developed by age 12 to see what you saw and report it to me.
I know you’re worried that students will call you a “snitch,” because you “tattled” on one of the most popular boys in the 6th grade. I’m going to do everything I can to prevent that from happening, but sometimes, when we stand up for what is right, the people who have made a shameful decision feel the weight of their guilt and look to shift the attention to someone else. You’ll have to be prepared for this.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
I am proud of you for doing what you know is right.
All my love,
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,
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,
In the awkward moment of calm after the chaos today, I slowly surveyed the classroom. Jerome was perched in his desk, knees by his face, turned toward the back of the room. Lincoln’s head hung low, as he squeezed a torn paper in his fist. Nikkya, Amber and Marcela were crying softly, and the echoes of my unpleasant tirade made the room feel thick with anger.
“Man! This would’ve never happened in my old class!
Your voice, stronger and clearer than I’ve ever heard it, sliced through the frustration in the room.
“I want to learn things!”
I could not contain my disbelief. In a matter of minutes, you transformed from a whiny, often off-task preteen from my 2nd period class into a scholar-leader of 3rd period. I have never heard you say that you want to learn.
Looking a Jerome, still contorted in the desk in front of you, you became a young man of conviction and leadership.
“Come on man, you need to get serious! Face the front!”
Jerome giggled awkwardly but refused to budge, while the rest of us held our breath in admiration of your courage and conviction.
“Now, come on. You know how to do this. Put your feet under your desk! Get with it. Sit up straight! Look at the teacher! Man, this is baby stuff. Move it.”
Not only did Jerome listen to you and change his actions, but did you notice that Lincoln lifted his head and dropped his paper? Even Julian straightened up and faced the front.
I couldn’t have done a better job of getting the class back on task. In fact, you showed more maturity and leadership than I did today. I let the frustration get to me, and I yelled. You took the same emotion and calmly but firmly addressed the class as one of their own and simultaneously as a leader who was ready to rise above pettiness and learn.
Honestly, I was initially against the schedule change that caused you to move to this class. As you witnessed today, there is a unique blend of personalities in this room that can bring out the worst. Or, in your case, bring out the best.
I am proud of you, inspired by you and thankful that you are in this class. I promise that you will learn in 3rd period. We all will, with your help.
All my love,
I am holding you to a high standard.
Yes, you could say I’m being picky. Writing your first and last name on every paper you turn in is required in this classroom. You are not a rock star, yet. Once upon a time, even Oprah, Bono and Rihanna had to write their full names in English class. Someday, when the world knows you as “Julian, just Julian,” you are welcome to perfect your autograph. Until then, I expect to be able to read a legible version of your first and last name at the top of every paper I receive from you.
The rumors are true. I’m cracking down on spelling and punctuation as well. By this point in the year, we should all know the difference between “their, they’re and there.” Words that are included in the reading passage must be spelled correctly in your answer. And for goodness’ sake, you must have a period, exclamation point or question mark at the end of every sentence and a capital letter at the beginning of the next one! By the way, abbreviations are not suitable for academic writing. LOL. #smh
Why does this matter?
I’m not trying to torture you with nit-picky details. I’m training you for excellence.
Think about playing soccer. Imagine that Coach Maddox shows up to practice today and instructs you all to run a warm-up lap around the field.
Let’s say that instead of running your lap, you decide to walk, and Coach doesn’t stop you. What happens next week? You’ll probably walk again and again until maybe you even stop taking a warm-up lap at all.
Before long, you’ll be sitting in the grass, staring at your cleats, while your teammates become faster and stronger with each lap they run. All you’ll become is smug and stagnant. While it probably seems like you got an easy break, the small habit of choosing not to run will negatively affect you when it matters most.
If Coach did not hold you responsible for showing up to practice and putting in your best effort every time, you would not develop the discipline and skills you need to be excellent.
Do you think Messi sits out his warm-up lap? Or is he the one leading his team in both the daily disciplines at practice and the number of goals scored on an international stage?
Excellence is in the small details. Academically and athletically, you have the potential to be great. Start by taking pride in your work. I’ll know you’re proud of what you turn into me when I see your full name, best handwriting and spelling.
As small and significant as a warm-up lap, these habits will serve you well if you invest in them.
All my love,
I’ve watched you silently absorb into Shaun, Keenan and Davian’s group. You never seem to instigate trouble, but you are often caught with the consequences of following that crowd.
Please be careful over winter break.
Life is a series of choices, and if you continue to passively follow others down this often dangerous path, you could find yourself in serious trouble.
What strikes me as different about you is the way you respond to consequences. Today, when all four of you were placed in detention instead of the Christmas party, you were the only one who did not argue, complain or shut down. You accepted your situation, as if you knew that your actions earned the consequence for skipping math class on the last day of school before break. That tells me you do know the difference between right and wrong.
It’s time for you to step up. Stand your ground on issues you don’t want to be a part of. Be strong enough to walk away and refuse to be part of the crowd that makes dangerous decisions over the break.
All my love,
You have matured from a reckless little girl into a fearless young woman. Channeling the same strength and passion that used to get you in trouble, you now act as a leader in the classroom and on the basketball court.
You are truly a remarkable woman and a joy to teach. I will be at your game this weekend, cheering you and the team on to victory.
With the incredible strides you are making athletically and academically, don’t let a strained relationship with LaKeysha take you back down the path you were once on. You are too smart, strong and sensible to let a little girl drama derail your progress this year.
LaKeysha is working through her own issues. I need you to stay in your lane. We only have one week of school until winter break. Your grades are improving, but we still have work to do. I would love to recommend that you stay on the basketball team, but I need to continue to see excellent character from you – in class, the hallway and during electives.
All my love,
I get it; I really do. You have a dozen choices to make every morning before you walk into my classroom. You choose your shoes, belt, earrings, and whether to start the day with a smile or a grimace.
The most important decision you can make today and every day is the choice to be kind.
I know enough about what goes on at home to know that choosing kind is not always demonstrated for you. Choose it anyway. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your earrings match your belt. What matters is how you treat people.
Popularity in middle school is a delicate pond on which you are skating. Being mean and pretty might scare people into thinking you’re popular for awhile, but I guarantee you that ice will melt soon enough. Try being the kind, pretty version of yourself.
Mean is a choice too. It’s not a default. Since the way you treat people is a decision, choose to be kind.
All my love,