what I wish I could tell my students

Afterlight
Two weeks ago I finished my commitment to Teach for America. In the fall I’m moving from my wonderful placement school  to teach in another content area at another school in our district. I’m so excited about this change, but also incredibly sad to leave kids and coworkers who have been more than I could have ever dreamed. This is the letter I wished I could have read to my students on the last day of school.

Dear kids,

When you get off the bus every morning, I search your faces. I know you–as well as one woman can know 278 people, anyway. The one in 2nd grade who still sometimes cries cause it’s “just so early”? I’m pretty positive that really, you’re ok. And I get you, ’cause, little dude: it’s early for me too. I know that some of you have parents that are breaking up or that you don’t know where your dad is or that you have a gravely ill sibling or one of your parents recently passed away or you don’t have heat at home. I search your faces especially hard. I give you hugs whenever I can, even if it holds up the carpool line. My husband and I pray for you at night, tucked tight into our bed. 

You get off the bus, get out of the car and walk up the steps. I continually marvel at how tiny you look silhouetted against our hulking building. You’re small people and you’re facing a big day. There’s lots to learn at school–chess, phonemic blends, units of liquid measure, sentence structure. I want you to excel in all of this. My face glows when your hands fly up, when the kid who’s not in gifted makes it to the spelling bee, when the child who normally gets it wrong gets it right, when the student who is in reading intervention reads fluently in Spanish. When the gifted child pushes himself outside his comfort zone. When the girl whose “thing” is reading rocks out the math test.

But there’s lots more to learn at school, things like kindness, commitment, integrity, bravery, responsibility. And again, I want you to excel. My face glows when I see you achieve academically, but my heart soars when I see you grow personally. When you tell your friend who’s in a racial minority at school that you think it’s awesome that he’s different, at the very moment he’s feeling left out. When you say “I’ll be your friend” to a fellow kindergartener who is wailing about her friendlessness at recess. When you struggle through an unpleasant task and emerge victorious. When you own up to your wrongdoing even though no one would have ever found out. When you bust a move in the hallway (even though it might technically be against the rules).

Because more than I want you to be “smart,” to be advanced, to be proficient… I want you to be kids with character, confidence, and curiosity. Kids who love. Kids with spirit. Kids who make good choices. Kids who take risks. Many of you want to be doctors, lawyers, rock stars, and NBA players. Because to you right now, that is what success is. You don’t yet understand that lots of “successful” people are miserable. And you don’t understand yet that there are lots of plumbers and landscapers and line cooks who are gloriously happy, making the world a better place with every breath they take. Talent is good. Intelligence is fabulous. But if you’re struggling in school, my dear one… take a deep breath. Stop having a panic attack about your grades (even thought I know we teachers make that difficult). Instead, ask yourself, am I kind to the kid that picks his nose? Do I work really, really hard? Am I trying new things? And I honest with both peers and authority figures? Do I say thank you when someone gives me something? Because it’s not what you do that ultimately matters. It’s not the grades that ultimately matter. It’s what kind of person you are.

And becoming the right kind of person, the person who you were made to be: that’s a huge undertaking. I know this well, because I’m one of your coaches. It’s a huge responsibility. But really I’m more than your coach– I’m also your cheerleader and your fan. Guys, I am such a fan of every single one of you. And I hope that I showed you that constantly–through high fives and higher expectations, through I’m-so-proud-of-yous and I-know-you-can-do-betters. This journey to who we’re supposed to be is one that I’m on right alongside you. And one meltdown at a time, one recess at a time, one checkmate at a time, one test at a time… we’re getting there. Together.

I’m not going to say I’ve loved every single minute of the time I’ve spent with you guys because, let’s face it, I’ve spent more than a few of those minutes mediating fights and cleaning up bodily fluids. But I can say without a smidgen of hesitation that, kids, I love you. All 278 of you, even when you’re in a fight or producing said bodily fluids. And I think you’re all beautiful, made perfectly in the image of the God who crafted the moon and stars. I realize that one day, when David and I become parents, our capacity for love will expand beyond what we ever knew was possible. But I also know that my heart has absolutely exploded these past two years.

Friday fives forever & ever,

Miz Senorita Broom Moss

I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in Jackson Public Schools and excited about the photography project we’ll be doing next year. If you’d like to contribute to my new classroom (which I’m SO excited about), check out my Amazon wishlist or help fund my next novel study (pretty sure your donation doubles with the code INSPIRE).

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One Response to what I wish I could tell my students

  1. Kathryn says:

    Ruth Ann. I stinkin love your blog and your heart. Pray for me if I come to mind, that I will become the “right kind of person, the person who [I was] made to be.” Way older than your kiddos, but still working on it! And prayers that I’ll be as good, inspired, and encouraging of a mom as you are a teacher!

    Hope you and David are doing so well.

    Kathryn mouchette

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