This Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share a different kind of love letter. This is not the romantic kind, although those to whom I write this letter occupy an enormous part of my heart. This is to those students who have been a huge part of my days with over the past many years.
Dear students and former students,
In my years of teaching, I have taught roughly 1,500 students, and each one of you is in my heart. Some of you were easy to love, as you brought smiles and excitement to learn into my classroom everyday. Some of you dared me to even make you smile or talk, because you did not want to be at school. At all. Some of you wanted me to love you so badly, yet you were afraid to be hurt, so you were mean to me to protect yourself. I don’t care; I can take it. I still loved you, sometimes that much more.
It’s no surprise to me when I see you in town now, sometimes all grown up with a family and career of your own, that I still remember you as the teenager or pre-teen that you were. It might take me a second to get your name, because, well, that was always the hardest part of the school year for me. 125 names a year! If I take a minute as I stumble to find your name, please know that I have never forgotten you.
I didn’t forget the homemade cards (or store-bought cards). I actually have a storage box at my house with every single one of them. I didn’t forget the day you came running to hug me, because you made the cheerleading squad, got your first job, or had the courage to talk to that girl, finally. I didn’t forget the day you sat in my room and cried, because all of your friends were being mean, or your parents were divorcing, or your mom refused to accept that you were gay. I didn’t forget the day you threw your stuff on the ground and left my room slamming the door. I also didn’t forget when you came back in and put your arms around me and cried, because life at that time was so, so hard. I didn’t forget the day you wrote and sang a song to me in the school assembly, because I was changing schools and leaving your class. I didn’t forget how I locked myself in my room and cried that day, because, while the move was best for my family, I was leaving those that I loved dearly.
Some of you have grown up and become teachers. I remember the days when you came to me to ask me what I thought of that. You wanted to know, “What was it like to be a teacher?” I gave you my honest account of the hardest, most demanding, most exhausting, most rewarding, most loving, and best profession around. Some of you wrinkled your noses and said, “But you get to go home at 3:00 and you have summers off. That can’t be so hard.” Sigh.
Some of you knew that all of those projects didn’t get graded at school, that those games that you l loved so much could take hours to make, that the meetings with parents before school, after school, or at lunch did not fall in the normal working hours. Some of you saw all that your teachers did, and you did whatever you could to make our lives easier, whether it
was running to the office, passing out papers, or doing a dismissal form.
Some of you may never know all that your teacher did for you, and that’s okay. I didn’t become a teacher to tell you how hard it was. I didn’t become a teacher to show you how smart I was. I didn’t become a teacher because I thought for one minute that it would be a relaxing job. I especially did not do it for the money. I did it so that I could help you be the best you could be, so that I could love you when you needed love, so that I would wake up and feel like maybe, just maybe, you were better off, happier, or healthier, because I was in your life.
To all of my students, former students, and future students, I do love you all, no matter what. If I give detailed directions, and then you ask what we are doing, I might be frustrated, but I still love you. If I have to sit with you and reorganize your binder again, I might be wondering how you managed to undo all that I did last week, but I still love you. If you earn a bad grade, I want you to do better, but I still love you. If you cheat, I am disappointed, but I still love you. If you don’t like me, I can take that, and I’ll still love you. If you yell at me because things are bad at home and you need to yell at someone, well… I don’t like to be yelled at, but I understand, and I still love you.
I have my own family at home, and they understand that when I talk about my kids, it is not 1, 2, or even 3 kids. This year, and most years, it is 100 or more. The number of people I consider my kids increases each year, and I love that. I love to hear from you, so if you are ever so inclined, send me an e-mail and tell me how you are. Come visit me at school. Invite me to coffee, to your graduation, to your wedding, or to meet your new baby. Nothing makes my day more than knowing you are well.