An Open Letter to Teachers

Here in my neck of the woods, it’s the weekend before the start of classes. At my house, life got frantic this week as my wife, a high school language arts teacher, returned to work.

It’s about to get really busy if you are at all involved in education. As you gear up in whatever way that you do, I selfishly wanted to jot down a few reminders that I’d be telling myself if I were about to get started.

First. I hope you take lots of risks for the sake of learning this year. Not just for your students, but also for you. Make it a goal to try to learn something in a sustained and meaningful way that has little to do with your classroom life. I’ve been trying to learn photography this year, and while I’m nowhere close to proficient, it has been helpful to be in the mindset of a learner who’s struggling. That’s how many of our students feel everyday.

It doesn’t have to be a big risk that you always take – take little ones, too. Ask the question that you’re hesitant to ask. Share the writing you’re doing with your students. Volunteer to do the silly dance at the assembly. Just challenge yourself a little bit every now and then. We rise to the challenge when we’re pushed. But it’s easy to forget to reach.

Try very hard not to work all the time. I suck at this, at turning off my work brain and focusing on being a dad or a husband or “just a dude reading the paper at the corner coffee shop,” but I recognize the value of being at rest and at play, of knowing that it’s better to let small work things go in the name of preserving long term relationships. You CAN be that hero teacher that everyone loves and is in awe of, but only for a little while. Then, you burn out and fade away and don’t do anyone any good at all.

You need no one’s permission to postpone a due date or modify an assignment for the benefit of a student, or to delay some grading for the benefit of yourself or your family. All will be right with the world if you’re a day late, so long as you had a reason.

Be an expert when you need to be. Be a learner always. You are probably the most experienced learner in your classroom. But don’t assume you’re the most knowledgable person or object. If you’ve a computer handy, then you’re not. Embrace that. Relationships and mentoring cannot be outsourced or Googled. They take time and genuine concern.

Model always what you want your students to do. You and your behaviors and habits, no matter how much you might wish otherwise, are a curriculum of sorts, perhaps THE curriculum.

Be humble, but fight like crazy for your students.

Have at all times, as Geoff Powell says, “a healthy respect for young people.”

Work on your crap detector. Teach your students to develop theirs. Read and write lots. Let your students make meaningful choices in their learning. Hold them accountable for the choices they make, good or bad.

And share the good stuff. Your stories are all human ones, and they are all special, just as each one of you, and each of your students, is special. There is always someone curious about what you’re up to.

You’ll have nervous days and scared days and failure days. But you’ll also have “yes” days. Write about, reflect upon, and learn from all of them, but build a special place to keep a record of the “yes” ones. Return to it when you need a boost on some of the not-so-good days.

I wish you well. I ask you to be brave and humble and kind and tenacious and wise and caring and gentle and fierce. We so need you to do well. And there are lots of folks out there who want to help. Do good stuff.

138 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Teachers

  1. Paul says:

    I found this two years after you posted it, and since it’s August 21, 2010, that means I found it just in time for another school year!

  2. Mary says:

    Thanks! I, too, found this just today, and it’s a great reminder as I begin the new school year!

  3. Shiela says:

    Nice article,Bud!
    Good luck to all of us,this is going to be an interesting year.

  4. roberta says:

    Really inspiring and absolutely true!

  5. vania says:

    dear bud, your letter brought tears to my eyes. i’ve read it as course (webtools for educators) assignment. i should comment on it, and all i can do is tell you i do agree and realize how deep true is what you share with us. it is april 2012, i’m in brazil. thank you.

  6. And I’ve just been directed to this as part of Week 1 of a Webtools for Educators online course… in April 2013! Congrats on the thoughtful and important messages. I totally agree with “Be an expert when you need to be. Be a learner always.”. My motto, really… even as a teacher trainer! Cheers.

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