UPDATE: After I posted this I realized that it might need a little more explanation. I did not write this letter simply for the joy and practice of letter writing. In fact, if I was trying to convey something to my students I probably wouldn’t use this blog since I don’t think very many of them read it! At my school we have a wonderful tradition of sending our sixth-graders on to junior high with a special memory book just for their class. In it there are letters from many of their former teachers and the current sixth grade teachers wishing them well on their way up the educational ladder. This particular letter was the one I wrote for their memory book this year.
What I failed to mention was that last year when I wrote to my students I included many bits of the same advice. It was my first time writing a letter meant to be kept and reflected upon in future years. In fact, I am certain that most of my former students have this taped above their beds and are reflecting upon it at this very minute – asking themselves “What would Ms. Owen do?” Like most of my major pieces of writing I had my mom proofread it. One Sunday evening we sat down together and came up with some bits of advice that we each thought pertinent.
So what you may not know is that these words come not only from me but also from my mother who was wise, kind, and had this way about her of knowing exactly what people needed to hear.
To Ms. Owen’s class,
Before you head off to junior high and leave your elementary years behind you, I want to tell each of you how much you have amazed me this year. I was so lucky to have the opportunity to work with such a fabulous bunch of young adults.
We had our ups and downs, and I haven’t seen much of you the last half of the school year, but I want you to know that I thought of you often. You have learned that bad things can happen, but you need to remember that good things can rise from the ashes of a disaster. When you think back on this year I want you to remember the happy story, because there is a happy version for every situation. Remember that Ms. Owen is alive and happy; remember that you had a great teacher the second half of the school year, and that you got to experience something really special this year. You watched me struggle, cry, and be mad, but you were also able to watch just how much hard work pays off. Your job is to never give up. There are very few things in life in which hard work does not pay off. You hold a very special place in my heart because of the wonderful people you are and because of all the great memories that we share.
As you depart to junior high I am confident that you are academically prepared and will be wildly successful in all your classes. What I would like to do is also leave you with some practical advice:
- Choose your friends carefully….You reveal your character not only by the company you keep…..But also by the company you avoid.
- When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.
- In ten years you will be nothing like the person you are today. I know you don’t believe me…but please try not to embarrass the future you.
- Learn how to swing a hammer, change your oil, and flip a breaker.
- It is okay to say “no.” No one will explode and die, regardless of how they may try to convince you otherwise.
- Do not post Facebook pictures of yourself that you wouldn’t want me, or any of your other teachers to accidentally stumble across.
- You do not have to be tomorrow, who you were today.
- Happiness is a choice.
- Find something you like to do and do as much of it as you can. You will get good at it, and that will make you feel strong.
- Plan for college.
- If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see you doing it, don’t do it.
- Peer pressure is no excuse for stupidity.
- Be compassionate with yourself, respect yourself, be comfortable with the person you are. Only then can you feel peace.
While you learned many new skills this year, more importantly, you learned about respect. That was the foundation of our classroom. We always tried to be respectful of other classrooms and our classmates. It’s not always easy to be kind and respectful, but you worked hard at it. You listened to your friends as they spoke and applauded their ideas. As adults entered our room, you thanked them for helping us. By taking your time and doing your very best work, you demonstrated self-respect. I am so proud of you for these accomplishments.
I hope you know what truly unique, talented, and amazing people you are. All of you have been generous with your belongings, your knowledge, and your time. You all have special talents and have shared them with us. When you brought your gifts and talents to our classroom, you helped to build a unique learning community. We learned from each other. I hope you know how important you are to me, to your classmates, to your family, and to many others in our school community. I know you will do many fabulous things with your life, and I cannot wait to see what amazing gifts you give to the world around us. You have already proven what precious gifts you can bring to a classroom. Believe in yourself and your ability to accomplish anything. Know that I will always believe in each and every one of you.
You are always welcome to come back and visit me anytime. Have a safe and wonderful summer and best wishes next year.