Letters

Everyone goes through periods in life where they feel like throwing in the towel. What’s the point? I’ve been feeling that way for a while, but in an effort to make up for the last post, I’m writing about something more positive this time. It never fails to surprise me when, just as I’m ready to give up on myself and people in general, something makes me stop. Perhaps another time I’ll explain how I’m possibly the most secretly optimistic pessimist you’ve ever known.

Yesterday, after I heard the mail truck drive off up the street, I put my book down and peeled myself off of the couch. I’ve been receiving mail every single day this week, and none of it was good. In fact, every single piece of it was bad news relating to money. No. I’m sorry. I got three pre-approved credit card applications.

So when I pulled the stack out of the mailbox, I said to the dogs, “What kind of bad news do we have today?” There was a stack of envelopes, two of them coming from the source of my livelihood at the moment. There were a few envelopes for my parents. And there on the bottom was a plain white envelope, addressed to me with no return address. I didn’t need a return address because I immediately recognized the tiny cramped handwriting as belonging to a student I taught during the 2006-07 school year in Virginia – my second year teaching. 

Sure enough, when I opened the envelope, a senior picture fell out showing my former student looking a lot older now than he did when I taught him his 9th grade year. There was also a piece of loose-leaf paper folded up inside. I won’t write the whole letter here, but it began right off the bat with the witty banter that the student and I had always exchanged. This immediately brought a smile to my face. It’s worth mentioning at this point that this is a student with whom I had been close, but largely lost track of after I left Virginia. He’d gotten himself into a little bit of trouble, and it seemed like my advice just wasn’t cutting it for him anymore, so we didn’t keep in touch very often. I have a handful of students from Virginia whom I’ve kept in touch with over the years, and I like that. I’m really proud of the people these students have become, and I enjoy talking to them about where they’re going with their lives. Really, I find it a little bit amazing that they still enjoy talking to me, but there you have it.

As I read down through the letter, I had to smile because I could hear this particular student saying everything he’d written. Then he thanked me for being his teacher and how his best memories of his first year of high school were in my classroom. His dad was a teacher in the school, too, and sometimes he would be stuck at school until the late afternoon when his dad could go home, so every once in a while I’d give him a ride home for his dad so he wasn’t rushed. The student thanked me for this and said that now that he drives, he realizes how far away from the school he lived, and that he appreciated not being stuck there waiting.

Finally, he thanked me for being a friend and someone that he felt he could always come to for help or advice. He said that this is what he appreciated most.

I can’t even begin to explain how happy it made me to receive this letter. I felt so proud of this particular student (I feel proud of most of my students, but in this case, I was looking at a letter that showed a level of respect that most high schoolers just don’t possess). Then I thought of two other students in particular with whom I’ve kept in fairly regular contact over the last few years: one I taught my first year in 2005-06 who has become my “protege,” so to speak. I am immensely proud of her and what she’s doing with her life, and I love hearing about how she’s doing in college. I look forward to calling her my colleague someday. The second student is another one from my second year teaching, and I always enjoy talking to him, as well. I’m glad we’ve kept in touch and that he still comes to me with questions and for help with college application essays. I thought then of all of the students I’ve been able to connect with through Facebook and email, and how much I truly enjoy seeing where all of them go when they leave my classroom. I love hearing about their transition into adulthood. I love so much when they surprise me.

This letter isn’t the first I’ve received like this. Last year I got a card from a student I taught my first year. She was a good student and I enjoyed having her in class, but we didn’t really stay in touch after she left 9th grade. Maybe it was for that reason that her card meant so much to me when she wrote me to say that she was off to Brigham Young where she was going to become an English teacher, partially because of the wonderful experience she had in my class. I found this to be so touching, especially since I’ve always thought of my first year teaching as a disaster.

This letter that I received this week was perfectly timed because it reminded me not to give up on myself (something that is frighteningly easy to do when you’ve been searching for permanent, gainful employment for officially two years). The fact that I haven’t found full-time employment yet doesn’t make me a bad teacher, and I am so grateful to have these students around to remind me of that, and also to remind me that a teacher’s work is never done. There are a lot of really negative aspects about the job, but to be able to know young adults as wonderful as some of the ones I’ve encountered reminds me why I wanted to do this in the first place.

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