I’d like to share with you the letter I gave to my students on my second to last day with them–yesterday. My second to last day teaching. To say it was tough and emotional would be an understatement. Students cried, gave me hugs, wrote me letters, and made me a poster. I probably don’t even need to mention that I cried. Multiple times. On my last day, today, I was up at 4am and wondering what my day would bring. I tried to come up with the perfect quote to write on the board, because trying to speak to them would just be a waste of time. I’d cry. When I got to school, three girls came into my room and begged me to stay. Talk about tugging at your heart strings. Another girl made an apple pie and gave me a teddy bear wearing a hand-knit ladybug outfit. People wrote well wishes on my boards. Two girls ditched their first two periods and hung out in the art room making me a card. Kids gave me money so that we could have a pizza party at lunch. We had pizza and cake and pie and soda… and then I sent them to their next class (sorry, teachers).
I’m not telling you all this for you to turn around and tell me how great I am. I am not saying all this stuff to super-inflate my ego either. I’ve been a teacher at this school for four years and know well enough that it’s a thankless job. Until now. All of my years of pain and heartache for these children paid off. They thanked me. And it felt amazing. I can’t even tell you how much my heart swells knowing that, in some small way, I matter to them. Little old me. I’ve struggled with feelings of rejection and low self-esteem my entire life. I’ve never felt like I’ve been part of anything and often wished and hoped that I was more popular, well-liked, and like I belonged. The way my students made me feel today was pretty great and something I won’t soon forget.
It’s hard to believe that the school year is half way over. It seems like it was just yesterday that many of you entered into my classroom for the first time. That was five months ago! Some of you I have known since last year and some of you before that. Many of you are brand new this quarter and I regret not being able to get to know you all better. Some of you have been here when I was a sub back in 2008! Regardless of time, we were all once strangers. And look at us now—a small little community within a crazy little school.
I’m writing you this letter to tell you goodbye, and to offer you some words of encouragement. As many of you know, I’m a big crybaby when it comes to this stuff. I thought it would be easier for me to say what I need to say by writing it. You know, since this is a writing class!
I’m sorry that I’m leaving. But I think most of you understand why I’m going. It has been one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I am confident in my choice. You see, when you’re a teacher, it’s not just a job. It’s who you are—inside and out. Saying goodbye to that part of me has been a difficult thing to do. But, life goes on and we have to find the strength to believe that what we’re doing is for the best. Right now, this is best for my family and I know that you all understand.
I know that many of you won’t believe me when I say it, but I will miss you. For four years, this little school has been my second home. Sure, it’s not always perfect. We fight, argue, and dislike each other sometimes. That’s how home is too—there’s good and bad. But most of the time, home is filled with people who care about you and believe in you. I have watched you all learn and grow and you are becoming young adults right before my eyes. I know that sounds like something an old person says, but it’s true. You’re all growing every day and discovering more about who you are and who you want to become. I am proud to have been part of your journey.
Most of you who come to this school have come from other places. We know that most of you aren’t here because you choose to be. We know that many of you left friends and relationships behind at other schools. We also know that many of you left your families in other countries so that you could be here to make better lives for yourselves. I’m pretty sure that a lot of you have people in your lives that tell you that you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” or “aren’t good enough” to do or experience whatever. That’s where this little school comes in to play. We believe in all of you. That’s why this school exists. We believe that all of you CAN and WILL succeed in life if you work hard enough to achieve your goals. That’s it—that’s all it takes. Hard work and determination. So keep at it, no matter how tough life gets.
All of you have very special gifts inside of you. I am so thankful that you have let me into your lives enough so that I could see your gifts. Some of you may not think that you are anything special, but I’m here to tell you that you are. First, many of you speak two languages. That, my friends, is a gift. Second, you’re all survivors. You have all seen some crazy stuff in your short lives that I will probably never witness in my lifetime. And the fact that you come to school smiling most days is amazing. Having strength in character is a gift. Some of you have very strong and outspoken personalities and aren’t afraid to tell people what you think. That can be a pretty big asset if you learn how to play it and use it in APPROPRIATE ways. Some of you are incredibly artistic. You can draw, paint, and create cool stuff using your imaginations and your hands. Some of you can sing and dance and create music. You have the power to create joy within people just with the sound of your voice. Some of you are kind, caring and love with all your hearts. You’re parents and wives and put your families above all others. Amazing stuff. And you want to know something else? I’m not the only teacher who understands and sees your talents. We all see it. ALL of the teachers here have your backs. Yes, even the ones who give you a hard time. It is for all of these reasons that I sweat you and tell you to not settle for “good enough”. Strive for greatness. Be better than “good enough”—in everything you do. Be amazing and the world will thank you for it.
So, I know this is long and how much you all hate to read. And if you’re still reading, thank you. I put a lot of thought into this little letter. I will leave you with this quote. I read it the other day and thought it was a perfect message to pass along to you:
“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the do-ers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.”
Come to school. Graduate. Your teachers see the greatness inside of each one of you. You owe it to yourselves, and the world, to be your best.
Teaching at this school has been the hardest job I’ve ever had. If you can, picture a quasi co-ed juvenile detention center with desks. Some days, I could hear my heart singing when I felt like what I said sunk in. Others, I had to pick my heart up off the floor after I was done erasing my boards. I can say this though: when what you do involves love and children, it’s worth it. It was worth it a thousand times over.