I actually left several school years ago (end of the 2016-2017 school year), but I was looking through some of my files and wanted to share this letter I wrote to my last class of students as they graduated (class of 2018). I hope if you are still teaching, you take the time to write to your students. It doesn't have to be also long as this one, but just... talk to them. Talk to them about more than the subject you teach. Talk to them in a way that lets them know that you see them more than students - they're people - and that you are more than a teacher - you're a person, too.
Dear nuggets, (that's how I refer to y'all when I say nice things about you on Facebook; when I complain about you, I don't have a term, I just write I WANT TO POKE MYSELF IN THE EYE - all caps is necessary)
I wish it were possible for you all to know what an incredible experience it has been for me to be your teacher. It may seem strange for me to say that since I quit teaching, but teaching for 7 years, 3 of them with your class, is and will be one of the top three best things I will ever accomplish and has undoubtedly shaped me into who I am. There is really no better way to make an impact on the world than to work with the people who will build the future (I am imagine y'all as a little army that I have indoctrinated with science, recycling, sarcasm, and Harry Potterisms that will go forth and not be shitty* people) and there are few jobs that are as challenging. Even though teachers get paid pretty much nothing in most places throughout the U.S., and even though I don't advocate for drive-by teachers, even though I kind of was one, and even though it is so much work and I'm not really selling the job well right now, I really think you should consider teaching at some point in your life. There's a quote I put up in the girls' third floor bathroom one year that said, "some are lost in the fire, some are built from it." Well, teaching high school is like being on fire.
It can feel that way, because there are so many of you, all with different strengths and weaknesses, and there's this big sense of responsibility to help you become the best version of yourself, while also trying to teach you to read and do numbers and stuff. The great thing about it is that, even though it sounds cliche, it's true - you guys can become (almost) anything. You can become good things, bad things, or in-between things. This is both wonderful and terrifying to me. It's why I started teaching and why I stopped.
But back to you - you have your whole lives ahead of you to choose and build who you're going to be and a whole life behind you to support you in your choosing and building. I guess at most points in your life, you can find yourself at such a crossroad, but the end of high school really sets you up for a big one. I hope you feel like your parents, family, friends, teachers, peers, etc. have helped you gain and hone the tools necessary for going forward and I hope in time you'll gain and hone the ones you still need.
I'm only 12 years older than you (12 is my favorite number!) and probably also 12 inches shorter than you and a lot of you are more mature than I was at your age and I don't exactly know what I'm doing with my life as I am a rising senior in college... , but here are some things I have learned between the end of high school and now that might be useful to hear as you close one chapter and begin another, anyway:
1. Say what you mean and mean what you say. I'm not sure at what point in our lives we learn to respond to uncomfortable situations by word vomiting things we don't really mean ("Yes, long time no see - we should hang out sometime!"/"It's not you, it's me!"), but I've been spending the last half a decade trying to retrain myself to stop doing it. (Caveat: it does make people feel like I'm a lot less enthusiastic about things, because I'll say something is "good" rather than "really good;" well, most things -aren't- really good, but I'll let you know when I think they are!)
2. Figure out what you care about and speak up for those things. (I think I'm late on this one, because I feel like most of you guys are way better at this than I was at your age. Asians/women (?) are raised to avoid confrontation! (Unless you have a nuclear bomb facility, I guess.))
3. Don't take things/yourself too seriously. Few things that matter in the moment mean something the next year, or the next day, and most people are not scrutinizing you as much as you are scrutinizing you.
4. People need people. I like to spend time alone (it might have something to do with spending the last 7 years of my life with 150+ people/day and experiencing a mild third-life crisis) and there have been points in time where I became kind of a hermit, but everyone needs their people. It doesn't have to be a lot of people, and you should enjoy your me-time, but I don't think that people can go through life happily alone. It's just not in our biology - IB, AP, or otherwise. So find your people. As you go off to college, it's pretty much going to be the only time in your life when you're introduced to tons of new people who are also looking to meet new people. Take advantage of the opportunity to go out a bit of your comfort zone, but don't waste too much time on people you don't enjoy being around, doing things you don't really enjoy doing. And don't forget about the people you already have & like.
5. Relationships are harder after college. Those of you with international friends might already know this, but when everyone is out of school and on a different life schedule, you'll have to work harder to give relationships you care about the time they deserve. Take some time to think about which relationships you're willing to give that time (& energy) to.
6. Pay attention. Pay attention to how you feel after you've hung out with people, after you've gone somewhere, done something, or even after you've eaten something - if you feel good, keep doing it; if you don't, reconsider. Do the things that make you happy and feel good. As long as it's not hurting anyone and it's not bath salts or whatever new drugs are like bath salts.
7. Each year flies by faster than the previous. Don't rush, but don't dawdle either. You're going to probably spend the rest of your life trying to strike this balance. And every time you'll think you've gotten it down, life will prove you otherwise :) Don't worry. None of us know what we're doing & we're all just making it up as we go, whether we let people know it or not. But that's the fun, I guess, that we never get to peak & coast.
8. It's okay to live a normal life. You might feel like you should be doing "more" with your life, because it feels like other people are. You should be doing something with your life, but it doesn't have to be extravagant to be good.
9. It's okay to quit. I quit education grad school, because it killed my brain cells. Then I quit teaching, because I needed to not stay awake until 2 in the morning editing my PowerPoints (/wondering which of you I wasn't doing enough for/which of you were engaging in illegal activities). Don't keep investing time into stuff just because you've spent time investing time and know when it's time for a change/break.
10. It's okay to not be okay. It will probably be okay. Put in some effort, give things some time, you & the universe will work it out. But maybe if it feels not okay consistently for 2-3 weeks at a time, talk to someone about it.
11. Try to be nice to people. It's rough out here. People kind of expect kids to be jerks; your brains are still developing, your life is constantly in flux, and you might feel like you don't have as much control of as many things as you want, & that's fair, but adult jerks are 100% the worst and... you guys are kind of adults now, or you will be soon.
12. Speaking of, don't litter. Only terrible people litter.
Okay, so there's some sentiments from me for your next steps. I don't know if any of it is helpful, but you are my last students for a while and possibly forever, so I wanted to quickly gather some thoughts together.
Finally, this is probably the more important part of this email - I want to thank you guys for last few years. You might feel like B-CC shaped you, you might not feel like that. I didn't really go far out of my comfort zone when I was in high school or college; it's my time at B-CC that really shaped me. It's through teaching you guys that I became more patient, less of a control freak, and more open-minded. As much as I set out to teach you things, I learned a lot, too. While I am so ready for you guys to graduate so I can stop living a a double life as a nursing student and former teacher that seems to keep popping up at B-CC, I will always look fondly back on our time in the classroom: wapping you guys on the head for being on your phones, not grading potato labs three years in a row, listening to your kind of ridiculous hypothetical questions, wondering why so many teenagers can't spell nucleus, playing quidditch on days I didn't feel like doing anything, making you record DNA replication videos that you didn't want to do (but did anyway, thank you), lying on the floor when no one was listening to my lectures, worrying that someone might vomit at junior banquet (but no one did!), watching you attempt to design & execute experiments (one of which involved burning pineapples & many that involved breaking test tubes), and so on. While I've said that teaching is an incredibly difficult job, there's also few jobs where you get to laugh as much. I hope you guys enjoyed biology class as much as I did. It's really been a privilege to meet you as freshmen or juniors and to see you off now as soon-to-be college freshmen. You guys have accomplished a lot - both big & small, both individually & as a group - and have made a big impact on me. So thank you.
I'm proud to have been a part of your journeys & wish you the best with your next steps,