For my Kids

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photo grading papers

Written for my students on my decision to take a job several hours away.

I walked into my classroom for the first time in 2006. I taught only underclassmen then, and even a couple of sections of middle school, but I knew as soon as the first class started that I had found my niche: I loved everything about upper school students.

I was hard on you. For many of you, your first day in my classroom was akin to a nightmare because I was so stern and exacting in my approach. I wanted you to take my class seriously. I wanted you to learn to love literature or, at the very least, appreciate it. I wanted you to become effective writers. I wanted you to see my classroom as a tiny slice of the real world, in which responsibility is crucial to survival and excellence is more than creating carbon dioxide in a desk. I wanted you to push yourselves in order to find your true limits.

And so we began this journey together, and you didn’t disappoint me. You have read hundreds of pages of literature and poetry. I know because when you didn’t, I’d catch you on one of my countless pop quizzes that earned me the title Quiz Queen by my third year. You’ve worked on projects, both on the group and individual level, and produced mythological statues, Odyssey board games, skits, poetry anthologies, power point presentations, song parodies that you performed in front of your peers, and even a rap that summarized Othello. You wore head coverings for an entire school day in order to help you connect with cultures around the world, you welcomed and chauffeured a WWII speaker, and you even went on a priest scavenger hunt to reinforce the brutality of communism in Southern Mexico in the 1930’s. And between all of that, you wrote papers. Innumerable drafts of papers. I know because I read every word. I read your thoughts on pieces of great literature and your thoughts on your personal lives. Some of you have even trusted me with sensitive information that few others know. I have valued your hard work. I have valued your transparency. I have valued your trust.

I never walked into this school with the goal of becoming your friend. That wasn’t my place; it wasn’t my role. I was your teacher. Which meant that I have been as hard as nails on you. With the exceptions of death in the family or a doctor’s note saying you were having a CAT scan, I cut you zero slack for assignments. A friend will make allowances and give you a free pass; a teacher will hold your feet to the fire. I was unmoved by your tears, and your excuses made no difference. I needed for you to learn your lesson. I wanted you to learn it with me instead of with an employer who doesn’t care why you’re late again or the bank manager who’s threatening to foreclose. I needed for you to learn how to be a responsible adult with me, because the consequences in the real world are far greater than a few penalty points taken on a paper. Many of you just accepted this as my way and learned how to operate under my system. But some of you guessed the reason why I demanded so much: you know it’s because I care.

And I do care. Deeply. That’s why I expected so much from you. I expect a lot of myself. But I’ve learned that by setting the bar high, you begin to jump. And some of you have even soared. I have no other way to explain why my freshman grades are still increasing in the fourth quarter when we’re covering the most difficult material of the year. You’re still jumping, still reaching for that bar. And no one smiles more brightly or has more pride when you reach it than I do. You have worked tirelessly for me this year, and I honor that.

I’m looking back on eight wonderful years. They’ve been gratifying because of you.   The technical term I should use to label you is students. But you’ve rarely been my students to me. Soon after I began teaching here, I started calling you my kids. And you are. My hope is that one day you’ll know why I’ve been so hard on you. Why I made your high school years a trial by fire. Why I came down on you like a sack of hammers. I did it because I want you to live beautiful lives. I want you to meet life’s problems with tenacity. I want you to soar.

And when you do, I’ll be smiling.

© 2014 – Traci Carver

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33 responses »

  1. Bravo Traci ~ Your heart is all over this, and your passion shines through.
    I would have loved to have a teacher like that in school. You’re surely going to be missed. I like thinking about what our education system would be like if every teacher had your mentality, passion and love for what they do and the changes they can create in their young students. The world would be a different and better place for it I’m sure.
    A beautiful share!
    ~ Andrea ❤

    • Thanks, Andrea! I’ve had many kind notes and words from students and parents alike. I stockpile moments like these for those long days when I feel I might be in the wrong profession and would be better suited to something else. Like road construction 🙂

  2. Ms. Carver I never did well in your class, or in school as a whole while I was in high school. But I would like to thank you for all of the hard work you put in to better us as your students. I can honestly say that you played an instrumental part in my development as a man, and for that I owe you a thank you. Best of luck as you move forward in your career.

    Best wishes Aulden.

    • What a kind and generous note, Aulden. I’m so glad that you’re doing well! I have no doubt that you’re taking the campus by storm 🙂

  3. You will be missed, Traci. Amanda has commented several times that she is sad to see you leave! Thank you for all you have done for the kids at Valwood! They are better today because of you and your love of teaching. We wish you the best of luck in all you do.

    • Amanda is a wonderful and bright girl, who will do well no matter who is at the helm. I’m so glad I was able to teach her as a freshman. Thanks for the warm wishes, Terri!

  4. Thanks for all you’ve done for our kids! We need more teachers like you. I’m sorry to see you go, but wish you well on your new adventure!

  5. Traci,
    I truly wish there were more teachers like you in the system. I haven’t had faith in education since I was in high school (my last ‘formal’ education setting), and I don’t see the value in college when I’m doing pretty well for myself without it. Whenever teachers complain about things on hand while crying to their unions on another, it pushes my respect for both education and teachers lower. But I appreciate you and your approach. I appreciate your teaching your students (your kids) responsibility; God knows they aren’t going to be taught that anywhere else until it’s too late. I enjoy the stories you share with us of your class and your students. And I wish, I hope my daughter has teachers like you.
    Thanks for making a difference.

    • Thanks, Matt. I’ve been blessed to be in the private sector, so I’ve had wonderful parent and administrative support. I’ve been free to challenge the kids and focus on their work because of small class sizes. It’s amazing what you can do with classes of 12 instead of 30! While we don’t target standardized tests with our curriculum, our kids do amazingly well on those tests, and that’s the proof in the pudding 🙂

  6. Wow–I wish I could have been more like you as a teacher! I loved my kids as much as you do, but your distinction between “teacher” and “friend” really hit home for me; I was too much of the latter to be truly effective as the former. Thanks for the insight, and I commend you on your dedication. (The thought of grading all those essays makes my hand cramp in sympathy…)

    • Once you’ve been down in the grading trenches, you never forget it! And I’m sure you were a wonderful teacher, Rebecca; I know you’re a wonderful writer!

  7. Teaching is a truly a calling not a profession. Beautifully written.
    Selfishly, very excited that you are headed this way!!!

    • You’re in the perfect position to understand both my excitement about this next phase and the bittersweet ending here. So glad I’ll have you waiting for me on the other end! 🙂

      • Oh, if only they knew the mischief into which we will descend. LOL SOOOO, looking forward to it! 😀

  8. You are a teacher’s teacher. Few educators leave such an indelible mark on their students, which reminds me of a Dan Rather quote: “The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’,” introducing them as you say to a tiny slice of the real world.

    I wonder, besides this blog post, has this letter been publicized? Well, it should. Maybe you even actually gave copies to your students. Hmmm

    Like you, the older the student the happier I was, finally finding my niche with first and second-year college students with an equally fulfilling career. Brava, Traci!

    • The Dan Rather quote is perfect, Marian! I’ve taught ages from 3 years old all the way to adults, but these teenagers are the ones I love the most. Some people look at me in horror when I say that I’m a high school teacher, but I can’t think of a more rewarding profession.

  9. We will miss you!!! Wish you the best!!! Please know you are one of the very best out there!! God Speed xoxo

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Thanks so much, April. I’m glad I was able to teach your three girls. Seeing Caroline’s success at the university level is exactly the end result we’re trying to achieve. Can’t wait to see how Maggie and Sara will tackle the world!

  10. Beautiful words, beautiful intentions, beautiful example of what it means to be a teacher who cares and sees beyond the cumulative GPA of her students. Thank you, Traci, for being that kind of teacher for these students. And even though none of them were my kids (dang it), we will all benefit from the standards you set, the lessons you taught and the kinds of people they will become.

      • That’s understandable, and a true reflection of why they’re “your kids.” If they weren’t, the next chapter would be an easier page to turn. Rest assured you’ve all left a lasting impression in each other’s lives.

        By the way, I still remember my freshman honors English teacher, Mrs. Fillers. And not just because I had a tiny crush on her. She was the first teacher to flunk me, for good reason, teaching me that I couldn’t just get by on “potential.”

      • I like her style! So many gifted kids need that lesson early on even though it’s painful. And look at you now! An author who’s safe from her red pen 😉

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