My daughter Annie did not get up and get ready for school with me today. Yesterday was her last day at Amity Middle School and today she is sleeping in. This year Annie talked about school non-stop. Every time I got into the car with her I would hear about Mr. Goldstein's experiments, we now have a Sons of Liberty flag flying at our house after completing research for a social studies project, and the kid no longer believes that mathematics was created to simply destroy souls of children.
A couple days ago I received a letter from a graduating senior thanking me for 8th grade. In the letter he mentioned many things, but not a single time did he mention any content or skills directly.
"...you were so encouraging..."
"...thank you for believing in me when I did not."
"...thank you for teaching me about the incredibly exciting life and times of Nathaniel Walker and making us sing a song about him!"
Ok, there was one mention of content.
What always strikes me about the letters I receive is they are almost never from a student that I knew I impacted. They are almost always from a student that mentions what made a difference was not the time during instruction, but about our interactions in the space in between. The side conversations, the walks in the hallway, the vibe and spirit of the classroom that honored a belief system that each and every kid could do what they previously thought was impossible because it was a safe place to be yourself.
That is what I head from my daughter this year. More than just content, I heard everyday that her team of teachers had created a place in which Annie flourished because of the that vibe and spirit that they created in the space in between.
I decided to write them a letter (posted here with Annie's permission). I want them to hear about the impact them made. I also want to post it here because I think it is important for teachers to remember that we make a bigger difference in kids' lives than we realize, and usually we make the biggest different in the lives of the kid's that we think we made the least. Teachers leave little pieces of themselves in each kid who use those pieces to build what they will become & what they believe is possible. Don't forget that.
I have also taught 8th grade for a few years :) My unbiased opinion...and one that is slowly being backed up by some new research...is that 8th grade is the most important year. It is the year that their personality and character is like a sponge, and for many kids what they absorb and who they become during 8th grade defines who they will be and how they will conduct their lives in the future. The teachers they have all leave little pieces of themselves in each kid who use those pieces to build what they will become, and what they believe is possible.
I can say without hesitation that the pieces you have given my daughter this year have established a foundation that will support Annie for the rest of her life.
The most memorable experiences a kid will have in your class will come when kids do things that they previously thought were impossible. Math no longer scares her. She believes she is a writer. The stage is a second home to sing. And geez, how many conversations can a kid have with parents about “what kind of job can I have that let’s me be an activist with the government and lets me do work with science while doing public speaking.”
In schools we tend to give awards to kids who conform, while teaching them about our "heroes" who made a difference by rebelling and doing things that were different. One of the things you all did this year that I believe was without a doubt your greatest accomplishment is that you created a space and place that allowed Annie to organize the GLSEN'S Day of Silence. At home she researched and worked for weeks. Hours of anxiety figuring out how to present the idea. And finally saw a dream come to fruition. That Black Team, was what I think was your shining moment. You and the administration created an environment which allowed a kid to do something she previously did not think she could do, supported her directly or indirectly, and allowed her to do it.
Teacher’s lesson plans should focus less on teaching and more on inspiring. This is one year that I saw Annie be inspired to become what we love to label a “life-time learner.” She was always watching some documentary on a class topic, discussing what she learned on car rides, sharing her writing assignments, and asking probing questions about topics being discussed in science and social studies classes. I can’t tell you how priceless those conversations we have had about the electoral college, science experiments and Andrew Johnson have been :)
ANNIE: Dad, do you think Andrew Johnson should have been impeached?
DAD: I am eating dinner, it’s the last week of classes, do you really want to have this conversation?
ANNIE: Yes because the Tenure of Office Act should have never been passed and…….on…...and…...on…….and…….on.
Yes, some of the conversations were a bit more one sided than I will admit.
One thing that took me 20 or so years of teaching to realize is that kids will not be who we want them to be, they will be who we are. Thank you for being incredible role models for Annie. Let’s face it, and sometimes it’s hard to admit this, all the content we teach our kids will be out of their heads within a few years...most of it within 72 hours. What’s left behind is love and passion for learning and knowledge. When your content fades, know that the love and passion for learning that you instilled in her will not, and the character that you helped to develop will guide her to someday be the press secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection :)
In this crazy test driven education world which seemingly asks us to conform more and more each day, please keep up the fight to allow kids have space to be an individual and continue to create lessons and directions not to make kid’s realize the dreams of an adult curriculum writer but to fully realize their own. You can’t have harmony if everyone sings the same note. The beautiful thing about the environment that you created is that harmony is not only heard in the auditorium during concerts, but also felt each day in your classrooms, especially in the space in between.
Thanks so much,