An Open Letter to my Stressing Students,

Dear Students,

You’re taking my exam right now.  And as I look around the room, I can see you stressing.  You are fretting over whether or not you can write your essays single-spaced or double-spaced.

Front and back or front only.

Pen or pencil.

Quotes versus summary versus paraphrasing.

Don’t you understand, my darlings, that it really doesn’t matter?  Don’t you see that what I care about is your knowledge and your communication of your knowledge?  In the end, at this point, front and back, pen or pencil, spacing….it just doesn’t matter.

What matters is the content of your soul.

What matters is that you see that you are a member of a global community and not the axis of the world…that you are one of the billions who helps the world spin.

What matters is that you know that when you are in my classroom  that you are loved.   And not for the gifts you bring or the sophisticated diction you use or the variety of your syntactic patterns or your skillful methods of using different academic disciplines to prove your points.  You are loved for one reason.  Because you are you.

Sure, sometimes you drive me crazy, frustrate me.  It’s irking when I catch you doing work for a different class or a different teacher.  It’s really irking when I can tell that you haven’t done your homework because of choice and not circumstance.  I can not stand it when I have asked you to stop doing whatever it is that you are doing and you keep on doing it no matter what.  I hate it when you choose not to do your homework and then, at the last minute, either blame me or try to turn it all in right before grades are due and expect me to grade it as though it’s not late…and give you my undivided attention when I am trying to wrap up grades and email parents about whatever it is that is happening.

In the end, though, I still care.  I really do.  I hate seeing your faces tightened with anxiety, your eyes glittering with un-shed tears.  It’s just not worth it.  The quality of your life should never be sacrificed because of numbers.

I want you to study.  I want you to learn.  And I really want you to do well, but not to the point that you are not sleeping, that you are living off of Starbucks and energy bars.  I want you to remember the joy that comes with living in a country in which you have freedoms and rights that have been granted to you, have been guaranteed to you.

I want you to be able to go outside and watch the sunset and revel in the glorious colors and know that the peace of bedtime is not far away.  I want you to wake up slowly and doze off into a dream and wake up again and maybe, just maybe, roll out of bed and start the day and not worry about…lines or word counts or colors of pens or spacing.

I love the sound of your laughter.  Because when you are sitting back in your seat and your mouths are wide crescents and your eyes are half moons, I can see the honesty of your joy and the loss of your worries.  I love it when you stop trying to be the best and you allow yourself to be who you are which means that you are the best because you are real and wonderful and you.  Just you.

The world is beautiful and wonderful.  The world is fraught with danger and people do want to hurt you.  But not me.  Not me.  Never me.  During your time in my classroom, I will show you the glorious and dizzying beauty that lives all around you.  And I will peel back on the rosy-colored glasses that still frame your eyes and teach you about the little barbed wire traps that are scattered on your paths of life.  I will teach you about how people want to dig their hands into your wallets and take without thinking, without asking, without contemplating the humanity that exists.

I will teach you about war.  About genocide.  About cruelty and the crimes against humanity.  I will teach you about the worst that humanity can be without immersing you in those worlds.  I will not show you all the images I have seen.  I will not tell you all the stories I have heard, or read, or experienced myself.  I will not destroy you so that you can be “educated.”

I will teach you about the peace that comes with simplicity.  I will tell you stories about making a campfire for the first time and putting on a pot of water for coffee.  I will tell you about the pleasure of watching the mist rise from the river and the intoxicating aroma of wood smoke mixed with brewing coffee.

I will tell you about re-finding my life’s purpose first on a trail that stretches for two thousand miles but is only two feet wide.  Or how you gave me back my passion for teaching because politicians and paperwork and cruel people have chipped away at my sense of joy.

I will tell you about the hope that can be found within every tragedy but not lessen the impact of the tragedy.  Because finding artificial silver linings is nothing more than wrapping up grief in aluminum foil and pretending that everything’s going to be fine.  Sometimes, we just need to cry and allow ourselves to experience the heavy, velvet-feel of grief.

I will show you that age and experience doesn’t invalidate that everyone has a right to live with dignity and self-respect.  I will give you back your confidence when someone else, possibly myself, has stepped on it.  I will hold the porcelain mosaics of your souls and lightly brush away the dust, the residue, the debris that sits there and covers up the brilliance that defines you.

You are important.  Not spacing.  Not writing utensils.  Not the type of lined paper you are using.  Not the writing style of print versus cursive.


And it’s time that you learned that.  And understood that.  And accepted that.

Because until you do, you will keep on chasing things that just don’t matter and get lost.

But when you do, check your back pocket for the topographical map I tucked back there.  If you notice, the way the lines all curve together resemble a handprint, much like all the prints you have left scattered all over my heart.


Love you.

Mean it.

Your teacher, Gracelesscurran

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