This week is teacher appreciation week. During this time, we're all encouraged to shout out, show love, and otherwise share our appreciation and gratitude for the teachers that have positively shaped and influenced their lives. I don't think I've ever sat down and written a letter to the teachers who impacted my life, so today, and that might be because I think that they've all had an impact in some way or another and to pull just one or two out would somehow minimize or ignore the fact that each and every interaction with a teacher from my past got me to where I am today, So as the title of this post (totally pulled from the book/Netflix movie series "To All the Boys I've Loved Before") I'm going to write some letters. It was challenging to choose because I feel that ALL of my teachers from my past have had an impact on the person and educator that I am today, so I wrote a letter to a few that always rise to the top when I look back on my experiences, and then a general letter of gratitude to everyone else.
To my 6th-grade Reading teacher, Mrs. K.
I knew I was going to love your class the minute I walked into it Yours was my last class of the day and your energy was so calming and peaceful, yet you fully commanded a room of 11-year-olds effortlessly, at least that's what it looked like to me. It was also in your class that I wrote my very first book and read it out loud to other people. If memory serves me correctly, we didn't have any rules about what we could write, but it had to be about something from our lives, although we could change some details if we wanted to. This project has always stuck out to me. I just remember getting so into the process. I don't think anyone had ever asked me to tell my story in this way before. You even ordered real blank hardcover books for us to write and illustrate our final copies, which I still have (my mom keeps it on her main bookshelf in the house). I can't speak for anyone else, but that was such a profound moment for me. On one level, it taught me that students' stories are important. I ended up becoming a Math teacher and I used journals in ALL of my classes. Even now as a teacher educator, the core aspect of all of my courses is student reflections. They start the semester writing their critical autobiographies and with each reading reflection, I try to push them to add as much personal connection as possible, because it is in unveiling their own stories that they can figure out exactly why certain parts of the course material stick out to them, make them uncomfortable or motivate and inspire them. Thank you.
To my 11th grade Spanish teacher, Ms. C.
Hands-down THE game-changing teacher in my K-12 journey--well maybe you and Ms. B....it's not a surprise you two loved each other. You were you...loud, sarcastic, energetic. You taught with your whole body. You taught with your whole soul. You told us stories about your life and you asked us about ours. We talked about race and racism. Your stories of traveling the world as a Black woman resonated with me so deeply. I don't know if I ever realized it until now, but when I taught. it was you that I had in the back of my mind. Your personality, your energy, your passion. It was the first time I saw MYSELF in a teacher, and again, at the time I was dead set on being a lawyer, but I'll be damned if I didn't end up becoming my own version of you when I finally came to my senses and realized my home was in the classroom. You did things no one ever expected, but they always made sense. Like the one, and only time you were absent and our class acted a whole fool for the sub. The next day you made us take all of our desks outside and have our class in the hallway because we'd disrespected our room, disrespected the culture we'd built together, and most importantly, disrespected ourselves. Your love for us was so palpable at that moment. It wasn't a power play, it was a lesson in self-respect. It was in your class, that I think I learned that it isn't my job as a teacher to make students respect and obey ME, it's my job to help them learn how to better honor and respect themselves. Thank you.
To my 12th grade AP Psych teacher, Ms. Barnett.
Whoo! Ms. Barnett, you're the whole entire reason that psychology and identity development are such core aspects of what I focus on in my work. Like Ms. Chandler, you taught with your whole heart and soul, every single class. You danced for and with us, you let us play and made it a core part of your instruction, you pushed us out of our comfort zones and then made us wonder why we ever went into them in the first place. Students who never hung out with each other or even looked at each other in the hallways became close friends in your class because we knew we were having an EXPERIENCE that only we would understand. Your room was the room that everyone came to hang out in on your side of the building because, like Chandler's room, it was a room where we could just BE...where we were REQUIRED to just BE. You knew us Barnett, you cared about us and we all knew that. There is a whole lotta you rolled into the teacher I became as well. Thank you for showing me that a teacher can be gentle and still respected and that our role is to create a community where students feel comfortable to take off the masks they feel they need to make it through the rest of the world.
To All of my K-12 Teachers
As I said in the opening of this post, I know that each and every one of you gave me some sort of lesson. Whether it was a deeper understanding of your academic content or a deeper understanding of myself and how to best navigate the world and advocate for myself, they were all necessary lessons that have turned me into the woman and educator I am today. Some of you challenged and questioned my intelligence, which taught me how to fight for myself (even if it was through watching my powerhouse parents do it first...and they ALWAYS showed up). Some of you had very rigid expectations for behavior and expressions of knowledge and taught me that high expectations are valuable and necessary but also that delivery, communication, and flexibility are important. MANY of you opened your classrooms before and after school for those of us who needed it, you sat with us and talked with us about what was going on in our lives, you shared pieces of your own humanity with us, and you generally made your classrooms feel like a place where we were all welcomed and valued. While others of you were clearly not really feelin' the teacher life and as hard as you tried to hide it, we could all feel it. In both cases, I learned that teaching is a bi-directional process rooted in heart and humanity. I learned that students will often give what they receive and that if I ever feel like my heart just isn't in it anymore, the BEST thing I can do for my students is to walk away from the profession and find the thing that does have my heart at that time. So I thank every single teacher that I've had, because for better or worse,, you left a mark on my life and a lesson that goes far beyond academics.