Friday, April 21, 2017

A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be something else, and that’s it: I care about you. I want everyone to do well, feel safe, feel valued, be happy, find success.

This room is our space. It’s a safe space. It’s generally calm. Whether the door is literally open or shut, you are welcome here, whether it’s during your scheduled class time or not. I want you to use this space to your advantage. Leave your worries and troubles at the door, and do your best to be fully present. More and more often, that means not being distracted by your phone. (You knew this part was coming.) If you are in the middle of a crisis, it’s unlikely that you will be able to solve it and be present in the class at the same time. If it’s not fatal or contagious, it can wait.

Here’s what happens when you continue to deal with a crisis after you enter our classroom: You appear distracted, anxious, upset. I wonder what’s up. I ask you to put aside your phone--and your emotions, for a time. Giving or getting further information in the midst of this is rarely good. It doesn’t end well. I’ve seen emotions pass across your faces like four seasons in a second. That may surprise you. I observe more than grammar. This is make-or-break time: you will compose yourself, or things will escalate. It won’t end well. Students shut down or leave the room without permission. To do what? Solve the problem? Ask yourself: how many times has that actually happened?

Think about your teachers. What are they dealing with, what are they carrying? Here’s a partial list: concern for aging parents, their own children, their spouses or partners, their own aging bodies and minds, bills, finances, whether or not they are getting sick, their colleagues, that stuff that absolutely needs to get done before the day ends. Somehow we manage. I won’t call it wisdom. It’s simply practice at regulating our own emotions. We taught after 9/11, after any number of national school shootings, after the presidential election, and any number of other polarizing, controversial or upsetting events. It’s guaranteed that some of us are going through a dark night of the soul during block 1 while you are doing a warm-up. Our experience has shown us what we can and cannot control. Adulthood is constant negotiation between those two things. The sooner anyone realizes that, the better equipped he or she is.

Okay, so what? Well, this is the hidden curriculum. The stuff you learn that’s not listed in any syllabus or course overview. It’s in the novels and plays we read, once you decode them and read between the lines. Protagonists face conflicts. It’s how they face them that reveals character. You are writing your story right now. Every moment contains a choice. How will you face them? What later events in your own life are you foreshadowing right now?

Ask yourself: This thing that has me so upset--will it be important in an hour? A day? A year? Ten years? Or will it pass quickly like a spring shower? Think about the verb to weather.


It gets better. Sometimes it gets worse, then it gets better again. Remember that we are together on a mission to make sure that you get what you need, intellectually and otherwise. I care, and I will continue to care as long as I remember you.

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A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be ...