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