Dear First Grade,
For months we have slaved over the art of letter writing. From developing our cursive, to practicing our word wall words, you have become the writing experts. We have written letters to each other, to schools in America, to other classroom teachers. As a recipient of many wonderfully worded letters, I have been inspired by you to write a letter of my own. I will start this letter with some thanks, a sincere confession, and finally, a lesson you’ve taught me.
To the smallest, loudest classroom I have ever been a part of. To the sweetest hands, feet, mouths, noses, ears, and smiles. To the guardians and protectors of the little ants that made their way into our classroom. To the bold and daring darlings who have survived my first year of teaching. To the toothless, goofiest of seven year olds. To the babysitters of Grasper, the greatest turtle in the world. To my truest first loves.
Thank you for the one time you lined up quietly. And thank you for all the times you didn’t and I had to practice my patience.
Thank you for the moments when you raised your hands instead of jumping up on your desk. And thank you Noah for dancing on your desk, falling off, and teaching everyone a valuable lesson.
Thank you for letting me hold your tooth in my pocket after it fell out during snack.
Thank you for the time you raised your hand and told me, “No, I don’t know how to spell ‘because’, but I just love you so much Ms. Shawna.”
Thank you for being young enough that I get to help you zip your coats and tie your shoes, but old enough that I never had to help clean up a mess in the bathroom.
Thank you for getting so lost in your math homework or a science experiment or a story book that I had to (literally) pull you out of my classroom when parents showed up.
Thank you for that time you caught a pigeon but you didn’t let it go in my face because you know how pigeons scare me.
Thank you for not telling the principal when we snuck out the window and had those precious 10 extra minutes of recess after a particularly long day.
Thank you for the cards, notes, pictures, drawings, flowers, and letters taped up on my wall. Gifts I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Thank you first grade.
And now, my confession.
I am a first year teacher, which basically means, I’m making it up as I go. I’m not really sure how to discipline. I don’t know the best methods to put you on track to reading. My grade book is a maze of letters and numbers and codes I can’t read. I haven’t taken attendance since October. And let’s face it, my latest science experiments have been less than inspiring. Hopefully my fellow first year educators can agree with me and I’m not the only one falling on my face time and time again. You are attending a young school. This might seem cool to you now, like all of the teachers are hip and groovy, but we are young in the worst way. No one has any idea what they are doing. I don’t know if I am a particularly weak teacher or if you are all particularly challenging students, but I do know that I have closely resembled a drowning rat the last seven months trying, between desperate gasps for air, to keep my head above water. A drowning rat using whatever maneuvers possible to push her sweet and obnoxious first graders down the path to reading independently. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud than when a few of us came crashing onto the hard earth, stinking hair in our faces, wearing molding, wet clothes, but finally reading glorious books like, Green Eggs and Ham and Are You My Mother? I suppose this confession is just an extension of my incorrigible appreciation towards each and every one of you. My thanks for teaching me how to be a teacher. Following behind me, slowly, aimlessly, wandering in the dark, but finding some tiny bit of light at every turn.
With my sincerest gratitude and honest confession, I will leave you with the lesson you’ve taught me.
If your parents showed up in my classroom at 8:58 in the morning they would be mildly concerned. To be perfectly honest, there was more than one time that I was honestly afraid. Don’t you remember? The falling-trusting-crazing morning routine. The silly game we play that causes pedestrians to stop near our window and stare at the strange site of children climbing up the walls? It all started when I realized that there were areas in our curriculum that I was not teaching well. I don’t like cursive. I don’t think it’s fun or particularly useful. But I had to teach it and you had to learn it. I remember you all being very surprised when I asked you to stand on your desk (seeing how Noah had just hit his head a few days before.) I stood behind you and asked if you trusted that your teacher loves you and wants you to be successful. If you said yes, I would ask you to shut your eyes and fall. Every time, just before you crashed onto the floor, I would swing out my arms and catch you. And as we’ve gotten more daring (falling from stacked tables and chairs and windowsills and hanging plants) we have created the perfect metaphor for the relationship blossoming between teacher and student. Trust. The most crucial moments of learning have come from the bond we have developed. That fact that you can trust me with your mind, your heart, even your flailing limbs. It is this lesson in trust that I now feel I can become the kind of teacher I aspire to be.
I have been given the great honor of teaching you, the most vulnerable, gullible, and impressionable of children. I am reminded of this every day by the three young girls who hang their hair in a sloppy bun on top of their head, just like their favorite teacher. Children who say words like “dude” and “that is so rude” which are words only I could have infiltrated into your Romanian culture. I am reminded of an author I love, Rafe Esquith. He is an education revolutionary, doing things in an inner city classroom that most of us would deem impossible. My favorite thing about this man is his character. His integrity. His trustworthiness. Esquith says, if he wants his students to be nice and hard working, then he must be the nicest and hardest working person they have ever met. If I want you to be honest and graceful and develop an unquenchable thirst for great literature, I must go first. I can be prepared for science, I can love math, I can have all the information organized and ready to present, but it is my character that will influence you most. As you graduate from the innocent moments we shared in this popcorn colored room, it is my deepest hope and desire that you continue to find people to trust. My prayer that you become men and women of integrity, characters who live out daring and courageous lives. And throughout your story, I hope you find the One who will catch you when you are flying down from the unsteady book case of life.
I am forever grateful for you.
With all my love,