an open letter to my students
May 22, 2023
Today is the last day of school.
The irony is real because the ending is "on brand" with how the rest of the year went.
A busted pipe, flooding, a last-minute scramble to put things online, and a very anti-climatic and odd ending to the toughest year of my teaching career.
I was too afraid to divulge this personally, as I didn't want to appear weak, or come back with a "downer" but although I was returning from maternity leave with a beautiful baby girl at home and a perfect addition to our family, I was also coming back from the toughest loss of my life. I was mourning the unexpected loss of my mother. I still don't comprehend how both of those things fell so close on the timeline, and how much of that space in the Venn diagram is shared.
Besides this, I was determined to make this year count, to make up for lost time. Coming back in October, I had a new take on how precious life is, and a desire to change the world, and my student's future, one young person at a time.
My mom was also a teacher, and all I wanted to do was emulate her. To take all of those letters her students had written for her at her funeral and soak up that energy. I wanted so desperately to follow in her footsteps and to be that person too.
That was a mistake.
To put that amount of pressure on myself was unrealistic, and not true to who I am at my core. I am me, and my mom was my mom, and yes, we may have many similarities, but we are not carbon copies of each other.
Additionally, I was struggling to simply survive day by day, to get myself and my daughters ready for the day, to be a wife, and to put on a brave face and smile when it felt hard. Expecting that I could have that kind of impact while also grieving is impractical.
My students have been dealing with grief themselves. The loss of two years of their adolescence that they will never get back. Maybe even subconsciously, they don't realize what they have lost, the loss of experiences, knowledge, and the connection that teens so desperately need to thrive. It's also possible they have lost people too, and I now cringe when I think of what I told students after a loss.
"They would want you to do well in school and be brave." If I ever said this to you, I am sorry. I didn't get it, I get it now.
This wasn't my greatest year, but I got through it. I maybe was frustrated, short, burned out, socially and emotionally exhausted, but I did it. I may not have made the connections I normally do, or leave an impact as large as I would have wished, but I got through.
While I was at graduation on Friday, a student spoke about time, and how precious it was. She even brought with her a beautiful hourglass, and used that sand slipping through that narrow gap as a metaphor for our life, our time, and how we use it.
I'm not even sure what the purpose of writing this is, as I doubt my students will stumble across this, who knows, maybe I need to share it with them, but my hope is this message reaches someone and they realize that it's ok if you had a bad day, week, month or even a year. (FRIENDS stans are smiling)
What I am learning is that it's okay to struggle, and to have bad phases in life. Yet, it is not okay to continue down that downward spiral in spite of what happened to us. It is a terrible waste and misuse of our time and energy. I want to acknowledge that this year was rough, but I also want to focus on how to change moving forward, and how to get out of that funk.
It's ok, acknowledge it, analyze what you want to change, give yourself the rest and re-energizing that you need, but after the fact, do it.
I know what I need to do moving forward, and as this is a letter to my students, I would like to offer them suggestions.
I hope they make the time to connect with others, personally, not behind a phone. I hope that they start to see how much knowledge is oozing out of their teachers and try to be a sponge and absorb that up, again without a phone in their hand. To live life in the moment, in the present, and realize that the fabricated life behind the screen is a fun distraction, but that's all it is, a distraction from finding what truly makes them happy and living a fulfilled life.
Time is never promised, and all we have is the present, so be PRESENT. I know that after much-needed rest and relaxation this summer, I will be ready to start fresh again, to focus on what's important, take a piece of my mom with me, but teach not for her, but for ME.
I know I will have a better year, work harder at my connections with my students, and refocus my why. This year I was in survival mode, but next year I will be a survivor.
Who's with me?
Until next time,