An Open Letter to my Students

Dear Students,

I have been brainstorming this letter now for…hours, maybe even a couple of days and I thought I knew what I wanted to say.  I had some fairly lovely words all scripted in my head.  And then I sat down in front of this computer and my heart seized up and my brain kind of fell down into some spot between my ribs and I lost my thoughts, my words, my ideas.

This is not a letter of guilt.  This is not a letter intended to scold you or berate you or make you think that you are horrible little monkeys who fling misery at me while I hide in the corner and pretend I am strong.

I am not even certain that this is a thank you letter or what I am trying to say.  But I will still try to spit out all the words that were originally pent up inside me so you can understand what I am trying to say but am utterly failing at doing so.

So much of teaching is like being on a carousel.  I keep on going in circles and repeating what works well and tossing what was a horrible mess/failure.  I love what I do.  I love watching you mount the little painted horses and hold tightly to the poles with the anxiety that you are going to fall off and get hurt.  But, my dears, don’t you see that the distance to the floor is only inches and you won’t get hurt if you fall anyway?

For a year, we spin in circles and you go up and down on your painted horses and shriek with delight and howl in frustration.  Eventually, you loosen your death-grip from the pole and spread your arms, ready to take flight but the ride is still going.  So you flap your imaginary wings and wait for the moment when you will lift out of your seat and move on to the roller coasters.

But I’m still there, at the carousel, waiting for the next batch of riders so we can spin in more circles.

I love the carousel.  When I was in high school, my first job was at Lake Accotink Park in Northern Virginia and I actually got to operate a real, antique carousel.  Over the winters, I painted the horses.  Now, I’m not a great artist, by any means.  But I loved that.  I loved dipping my brush into the paint and fitting the bristles into the grooves in the saddles or in the curls of the manes or in the edges of the muscles and feeling the spirit of each horse within.  No, I’m not crazy or delusional.  These painted horses were only going to be wood and wood filler.  But, for those winter months when I was crammed into a room and getting a bit delirious on paint fumes, I was the horse master.

My beloved students, you are what creates, destroys, and re-defines parts of my world.  I guard my home with absolute power and strength.  You are not to come onto my doorstep.  But, at the same time, you inhabit so many of the shadows that grow along the walls.   You are role models to the Boy and the Girl.  You are the stories I share with my husband after dinner or when I can’t fall asleep at night.  You inhabit my dreams.  You are the nuances of my daily habits.

For twenty years, I have worked with you.  I have graded your essays, listened to your stories, held your hands while you cried, laughed at your jokes.  I have read books you pressed into my hands and celebrated your victories.  Your pictures are the wallpaper in my classroom.  You are the inspiration behind the lessons I teach.

My dear and darling students, I am still stymied by the I don’t know what to say muse.  I am still uncertain how I want to conclude this because I am not done with my carousel ride.  I wish I could get off of it sometimes and follow you to the roller coasters.  Not because I am grieved by your leavings and must hold on to the past.  But because the adventures of the future are so enticing.

But my painted horses sing to me.  I know their edges.  They are familiar.  They are family.

But the carousel is always open to you.  I will always, happily, let you come back and get back on the horses that might feel more like miniature ponies now that you have ridden and loved the roller coaster.  And, sometimes, I will let you push the buttons that will make the carousel start and stop.  Of course, if you need to get off early, be sure to move with the carousel’s flow and not just step off.  It’s a jarring step and you might wrench your shoulder.

Love you!  Mean it!


Your humble teacher

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