Dear Mrs. Wiley,
Back in August when I saw your name on my schedule, I was terrified. I went to the counselor’s office to try and switch out of your class four separate times. They refused to let me switch without a valid reason…
Stop, stop. If you keep going on like this, I’ll get a big head. You flatter me.
Seriously though, kids are tough. If you are going to teach high schoolers, you’ve got to be tough as well. You’ve got to be strong, fearless, tenacious, and absolutely one hundred percent sure of yourself at all times. Or at least, you’ve got to make them think all of that while inside you tremble in fear, realize that this _________ (rule, lesson, unit, goal, objective, assignment, etc.) is complete crap and vow to never ever do it again as long as you live, while chastising yourself for ever thinking it was a good plan in the first place.
Just keep calm and pretend it’s on the lesson plan.
The letter from above is not an uncommon sentiment in the halls of EHS. I have a reputation for being one of the “mean” teachers. This translates into: makes kids work really hard ALL THE TIME; never lets them use their cell phones to check social media during class; demands their very best work; makes them read really difficult literature; makes them edit, revise, and re-do assignments to improve them over and over again; holds them accountable for their learning.
If that makes me a mean teacher, I’ll take it. I don’t mind. In the long run, it’s so worth it.
The thing is, I’m not mean. I know it and kids eventually know it too. But reputations stick. I taught in a small school in a small town for the last five years. Word gets around. I’ll let you know how that student’s letter ends but first I’d like to let you know a few things about myself as a teacher, in the interest of honest, authentic, and transparent communication.
I am unapologetically demanding. No nonsense. I demand excellence. But I also support, encourage, and motivate along the way. I ask students to work harder than they ever have before, and enjoy learning for learning’s sake. I ask them to think critically, create thought-provoking questions, respond thoughtfully in many engaging discussions with their peers, and constantly engage in the process of self-assessment, reflection, and goal setting. It is my greatest hope that they will come to understand education as something they DO rather than something that is DONE to them.
My teaching philosophy is simple: My job is to ask you the best questions. Your job is to come up with the best answers. I believe that I can look for the right questions to ask and then hope they start to search for the meaningful answers. No learning is worth anything without a deep interest and thoughtful interaction. I try to help students understand the beauty in literature and writing as a means for self-exploration and self-actualization. I have one goal as a teacher and it is to prepare students to become good people. Knowing their philosophy, beliefs, and goals will help them prioritize and commit to those things which align with their values and create meaning in their lives.
I encourage them to find those things. We have to know why we do what we do, and live on purpose every single day. We need to bring passion to the classroom, and a fervent belief in the good of humanity, and our role in making it even better.
My message to students at the end of the year is this: Never forget that real learning occurs outside of the classroom. Be the kind of people who love learning. Who love life. Who travel, explore, have open minds, open hearts, and open arms. See everything that the world has to offer. Do not ever take one single little precious moment of this life for granted. If ever you should feel lost or alone, please remember that someone out there cares about you very much, and is only ever an email, a phone call, or a few classrooms away. Better yet, send me a letter. They’re my favorite.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering how that particular student’s letter ended:
“…Now it is the end of the year. I am so happy I didn’t get to switch out of your class. I know that you push us so hard because you truly care about us. This is my favorite class and you are absolutely, by far, my favorite teacher. Thank you so much for everything.”