Dear Sixth Grade Students

education, photography

Dear sixth grade students,

Rubber bands are henceforth banned from our school. If you are caught with a rubber band of any size, shape or color, you will be placed in ISS immediately. This includes silly bands and any other elastic material you could stretch and shoot across the room.

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 Terrance

education, photography, humor

Dear Terrance,

I adore your sense of humor and spunk, but there is a time and a place to be serious and sincere as well. Today was one of those times.

“I will not teach liars and thieves! Get out!” the voice reverberated down the hallway to my classroom.

Mr. Bain’s door opened and closed rather loudly, and I was concerned. It was my planning period, so I walked into the hallway and noticed you standing outside of his room. Your upper lip, left cheek and uniform shirt were covered in a white powder.

“Did Mr. Bain ask you to leave the classroom?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s try that again.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Why did he ask you to leave?”

You smiled, shuffled your feet and looked down at your shoelaces. A moment later, Mr. Bain opened his classroom door and dropped your binder on the floor. “He cannot come back into my classroom for at least a week!”

You shuffled your feet again.

“Terrance, did you take something from Mr. Bain?”

I walked across the hall and picked up your binder.

“Yeah – uh – I mean, yes. I did. I – ” you giggled slightly and looked up at me with that twinkle in your eyes, “I knewd he had a pack of those donuts he always eatin’. Those white, powdery donuts in that little package. He had one of those in the top drawer in his desk, so I just took ‘em.”

We sat down on the floor in my classroom.

“You just took them?”

“Well… I mean, I ate them. I had to ate them real fast because I was scared he was gonna turn around and catch me behind his desk, so I kinda got that powdery stuff everywhere.”

Handing you a paper towel to clean your face and shirt, I said, “ Terrance, you and I both know that it’s wrong to take food that doesn’t belong to you. Are you hungry? Did you eat breakfast this morning?”

“Naw Miss, I ate breakfast,” I just (giggle, giggle, giggle), “I just wanted to see his face when he knewd his snack was gone!”

I had you stay in my room for the remainder of that class period to learn a lesson about trustworthiness by picking up trash off the floor and cleaning out the student desks.

Just when I thought we were clear about the difference between times to be funny and occasions to be sincere, your classmates filed in my room for English Language Arts. I noticed that you stayed on task and finished your work before class ended, so I gave you the early-finisher activity: Write a card to a family member or teacher for Thanksgiving.

Yours said, “Dear Mr. Bain…”

education, photography, humor

While admittedly hilarious, this is not a heartfelt apology. For homework tonight, you will write a straightforward and sincere apology to Mr. Bain. Save the jokes for your standup routine, and save me a ticket. Let’s pass the sixth grade first, though, and then we can talk about your future plans for your comedy hour on television.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Jasmeka

education, photography

Dear Jasmeka,

So, you want to be a teacher when you grow up?

Why do you want to be a teacher?

A. I want a job that is rewarding and fulfilling.

B. I want to help people.

C. I want to make a lot of money.

D. I love children and want to make a difference in their lives.

If you chose answer C, you’re correct. I joke, I joke!

A. I want a job that is rewarding and fulfilling. Here’s the truth about being a teacher. It doesn’t always feel rewarding and fulfilling. In fact, most days it’s exhausting and frustrating. I cry more than I cheer.

B. I want to help people. While this sounds noble, I’ve realized that the most powerful thing I can do is to teach my students how to help themselves. Teachers whose main motivation is to help or fix other people end up thinking that they are superheroes. When I look around my classroom, I know without a doubt that the true heroes are the 11 and 12 year olds who are persevering with their academic and character development every day.

C. I want to make a lot of money. I’m hilarious, right? Tip – humor is key as a teacher. If you can’t laugh off the small things, you’ll probably become very, very grumpy.

D. I love children and want to make a difference in their lives. I learned quickly that my love and patience are limited. I have had to constantly remind myself that love is a choice, not an emotion. I want the very best for each and every child in my classroom, so even when I feel frustrated, I still choose to not give up on any of you. And then I have to ask myself, what does it mean to make a difference in someone’s life? Is that self-serving too? Am I teaching because I want to be remembered? Or am I teaching to give a child an opportunity she would not have had in a different classroom?

Let’s try this as an open-ended question: Why do you want to be a teacher?

________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________

Here’s my answer as an example:

I teach because I believe that every child can and will achieve on an absolute scale when given access to quality education and the support he or she needs to be successful. I believe that every life matters, kindness counts, and hard work and self-advocacy are essential life skills to be successful in school and in a career. I teach to open doors of possibility for students to walk confidently through on their own two feet.

Jasmeka, you have the strength and compassion inside you to be an excellent teacher one day. Ground yourself in the reasons why you want to teach so that when frustrating days happen, you stay steady for yourself and your students.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

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 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 DeMorris

education, photography

Dear DeMorris,

Will you let me in your brain? I don’t know how to teach you best. You deserve an excellent education, and right now I’m falling short of the teacher I need to be to provide that for you.

How do I keep you engaged? Ok, that’s polite teacher talk for wondering how I keep you from rolling on the floor and making hurricane noises during my lesson.

I suspect that you are bored. I’ve tried giving you more challenging work. You speed through it in the first 10 minutes of class. And it’s usually correct. Not that I have time to check it for accuracy in the middle of class when the 33 other students in the room are clamoring for my help and attention.

I have tried giving you a separate schedule and warnings. “Class ends in 15 minutes, you need to start packing up your stack of books.” By the way – I love that you love to read, but you do not need to carry the entirety of your personal library in your arms every day. Let’s limit the armload to two books from now on.

“Class ends in 10 minutes, please start packing up your papers and your agenda.” I always say this to you, individually, not making a scene, simply giving you extra time to begin organizing your papers. I know that’s important to you, and I want you to not feel rushed and frustrated.

“Class ends in 5 minutes, please start packing up your pencils and pens.” Usually you are still reading silently at your desk, having not followed any of my personal directions for you. Also, typically at this point in class, Jerome is skipping around the room, Agustin is flicking little wads of paper at Adriana and at least three other students are talking when we are supposed to be packing up silently.

“DeMorris, please line up by the door, so we can transition out of class in a timely manner.” Nothing. As if concrete holds you to your chair. Why do you do this every day? You miss an average of an hour and a half of math class every week by sitting still and mute in my classroom for 15 minutes after everyone else has left. Not to mention that I waste an hour and a half of my patience and energy coaxing, threatening and demanding that you pack up and walk to your next class.

Your mother and your uncle are getting frustrated. They can’t keep coming up to school in the middle of their workday to discipline you.

I want to gain your trust, DeMorris. I want to challenge you, to engage you in my lesson or maybe just a conversation about the latest book you’ve read. I need you to let me in, so that you can learn something new this year. I can’t stand to watch you stagnate in your own stubbornness.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson