I received an amazing gift today. I didn’t want to drop by my office at all — with my grades posted, all I wanted was to stay far away! But I needed some materials for an off-campus meeting with a colleague, so here I am. On my office chair, I found a letter from a student.
First, perhaps I should admit that while students have the most difficult time in the world learning how to write good compositions (at least, many of them take about 12 years to learn, and then do only a half-hearted job), a very large percentage of students write knock-down-dead, great letters. At the end of every quarter, I ask all of my students to write a letter reflecting not on me (there’s an evaluation process for that), but on their own learning. And they write the most entertaining letters. If I were grading them on the letters alone, they would all get A’s. Not that they’ve nailed the grammar!
What they excel in is telling me what a fantastic class this has been, how MUCH they learned. Do they write the same, basic letter to any teacher who asks? Okay, so I try to take whatever they say with a grain of salt. (“This is the greatest English class I have ever had.”) But sometimes there’s something so personal, so heartening about the letters. The letter I found today was like that.
And it wasn’t about me or my class at all, not entirely anyway. It was about a journalism teacher who saved this student back in Freshman year of high school. “I wasn’t attending classes. I didn’t care. I was failing.” But she bumped into a teacher who recognized her potential, her hunger for a good story (that’s my interpretation) and she became engaged in the process of her own education. I feel honored to have been compared to that teacher.
The tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut have drawn my attention to them, as they have everyone else’s. I’m so grateful for my kids, who are healthy and safe — or were the last time I saw them. (My children who were once six and seven and eight, so small and so vulnerable.) My heart breaks for the families who have to muddle through the holidays after this horrific loss. I grieve for our broken nation, even for the wounded people who think that rushing out to buy another weapon is the right response. I hope that in 2013 far fewer of our children will be killed by bullets. Many stories will emerge from this (just as with Columbine). I hope one of the stories will be about being kind to one another. I once read, it may have been in a book by Gil Blaisie: “Retaliation is effective only when the goal is to prolong the violence.” I hope that someone will re-introduce into the national conversation the Amish response to similar, recent events.
I think of the teachers who gave their lives for their students. I have never been asked to do such a thing. But I’m thankful for my student’s journalism teacher from high school. I’m thankful for my teachers who nurtured in me a love of story.
I have been thinking about retiring from teaching, but right now, with this letter on my desk, I’m thankful that I can matter to my students, even in my small way.