Dear Teacher

Dear Teacher,

I am writing this to you because I have been in the education business for almost two decades and have been around the block, so to speak, in terms of teaching experience. I’m also a parent, so I have the added bonus of seeing education outside the limited lens of my classroom and in the larger, more realistic, view from my dining room table. I know the direct repercussions of too much homework, or inane projects. I see the tears and the triumphs of your day each afternoon when my child unpacks her bag and starts her work.

As a teacher, I know what it means when the year is winding down and I need to finish my curriculum. I know that crunch time before vacation when I need to pile up the homework and make some headway. As a parent, though, I know that homework over vacation means schoolwork when I want my kids available for the limited hours we get to have as a family.

So I’ve walked that fine line. I know what it means on both sides.

My children have had teachers that have inspired them. They have been motivated and given the tools to go on to higher education. They have had teachers who have opened up worlds to them – in books, in science, in math. I’m writing you this letter, though, because you have somehow missed something in your education. Something slipped past the professor who was supposed to teach you classroom methodology. You graduated and you got your degree and I am sure you have read books upon books dealing with classroom management and differentiated instruction and other catch-phrases of educational jargon.

But someone needs to tell you the straight-up truth about teaching. And I have taken it upon myself to point out a few things you need to know for the future. Things I have learned over the years.

You are the attitude and atmosphere in your classroom at all times. But discipline does not need to be angry. Maintaining control in a classroom does not require stern looks and threatening postures. Smiling does not mean that your students will take advantage of you. On the contrary, they will learn the value of a positive attitude. They will trust you. They will feel safe with you. You can balance your authority with love and you will find that your students will flourish.

They are with you for hours at a time. Make it a point to smile at each one. Sincerely.

You can also be flexible. I have taught 17 year old students who have had their computers crash on them or who had showed me remnants of papers that had been run over in their driveways. And even though I don’t accept late papers, each case is different and there is a time for compassion and a time to be intractable. You need to know the difference between a student that takes advantage and a student who needs a break. You should have rules. You should have high expectations. But you also need to balance those rules with the realities of life. A wise teacher knows the difference between compassion and weakness and knows when to bend.

You need to also know that one year in the life of a child is enormous. To you, nothing changes – you finish your year, start again, open your books, recite your lessons. But to the students who are in your classroom, that year is a major part of their development. You are the one they will remember when they speak to their own children about school. What story will you be? The one about the the worst teacher or the best? Every day you create that memory for them. Decide who you want to be.

Your students have parents who love them. Who trust you with them for an entire day. You may have students who bother you, who have messy hair or unkempt clothes. Maybe a kid that has a disorganized backpack. You might have a student who has an annoying habit.

That student is someone’s entire life.

Always keep that in mind. Because any disparaging comment that you make about that child – while chatting in the hallway or walking into the classroom – might be overheard. And in that one second, you have destroyed her, in ways you cannot even fathom. And for a parent, that is unforgivable. It is your job to keep her safe from the mean kids. You can’t become one. Even in private. Because you think that the students don’t know, but they do.

Dear teacher, your job is to teach. But in those few hours, there is so much more that you are responsible for than just your curriculum. The way you teach fractions is so much more vital than the content of your lessons. The way you return homework is so much more educational than the red pen marks across the page. The way in which you carry yourself each day in front of that class will define your success and the success of your students.

Because, dear teacher, your professor no doubt forgot to tell you that happy students learn better than fearful students. Your class may be lined up in rows, and your students may be marching in lines and raising their hands, but if they are not smiling in your room, then you have failed.

And then you are not a teacher.

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12 replies

  1. Great stuff! Really well written.

  2. That was AWESOME! I wish every teacher would read it. Unfortunately, I fear that the ones who need to hear this lesson the most will be the least receptive to it. You ROCK Adina. I wish I’d had teachers like you 🙂

    • Thanks. There will always be bad days and good days in teaching. The key is to keep the bad days in perspective and maintain the good ones for the majority of the year. Thanks for your comment!

  3. This was a great piece, that I wish more administrators would read. Mine mandate that each teacher give packets of homework over breaks for test prep, and are more concerned with Scantron scores than learning.
    My students love my class because I celebrate their progress, encourage creativity, and reward hard work. My room is a highly organized bustle of activity, and only a fraction of the learning can be scored by a standardized test.

    • I think it’s a balancing act. Tests are part of life and parents want to see high scores as well. But you’re right- it’s about attitude more than pressure. Confidant kids do much better than kids who feel bad. Thanks for you comments!

  4. This is horrible, and condescending. I think you are out of touch and have an extremely limited view of education. Which is surprising because you’ve been in the “education business” for sooooo long. I mean seriously, do you think you are the only ‘educator’ that is flexible with computer problems? This is not some article that is enlightening or ground breaking. Do you really think you are telling us anything groundbreaking simply because we didn’t learn how to treat people in grad school? You are all, “I don’t accept late work….except….” So the truth is, you do accept late work… That right there proves to me you are trying to be all up on some high horse, but really you aren’t, you are just like every other educator out there trying to do what’s best for kids… You saying this doesn’t have to happen while making broad generalizations about a profession. You don’t have a single bit of evidence to back up these claims….I sure hope you don’t teach science, because that would be embarrassing.

    • You do realize that this was about a specific teacher, right? Not sure why you would be so incensed over it. Unfortunately, there are bad teachers out there. This was one of them. She destroyed kids in her class. They aren’t generalizations – they are specifics about her alone. I mean, I’ve been teaching for 20 years! Why would I disparage the profession? But in any event, thanks for commenting!

      • NO WHERE does it say this is directed at a specific teacher, right? Your pronouns make these generalizations. If I were writing this to a specific teacher of my students, you could have directed everything not to a “you” but to a “Ms. ________”. Please tell me where there is any indication that this was directed at any specific teacher, and not teachers as a whole who you perceive to not be as good as you…

      • Good point. Thanks for the feedback!

  5. You assume that you are the only parent that is also a teacher. Many, many teachers are parents also. And those teachers are also human…and make mistakes…as I am sure you have in your many years in the classroom. I know when I was a teacher before I had kids, I did not understand all the complexities of working and being a parent. I was more of a no excuses type teacher. I was more of an I am willing to stay late day after day why aren’t you type of a teacher. But having kids changes your perspective, your time management and your understanding of the demands in a family. As your life changes so does your perspective…that is just part of growing up professionally….and normal development as a teacher.

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