Friday, June 5, 2015

Why I Write a Personalized Note to My Graduating Students

Spoiler alert: I don’t do it for the students. 

Image Credit, User Pezibear,

In most parts of the United States, middle school ends after grade eight. Eighth graders love the fact they get to graduate. They are often scared to death of leaving middle school, but they are obsessed with the idea of their graduation. I know this well because I am a middle school teacher.

For each of my six plus years in the classroom, I have had at least one class of eighth graders. I have a little tradition going where I jot a personalized, hand-written note to each of my eighth grade students. I deliver it to them on their big graduation day.

These notes are nothing more than a paragraph or two. If it wasn’t for my wife, I would write the note on an index card and stuff it in a business envelope. Luckily, she insists I use nice, colorful cards. When I compose a note, I try to hit four main points. I try to:

  • Congratulate them 
  • Explain how I learned from them 
  • Relive a brief story about them 
  • Give them a bit of personal advice 

These notes take a bit of time, but I don’t mind. I really enjoy writing them. I also love the look on a student’s face when they open up the card to find a hand-written note. As I finished up my writing this year, I realized why I write the notes each year.

I don’t write the notes for my students, I write the notes for myself.

I write the notes to reflect and think about the past school year. I write the notes because it forces me to slow down and think about each and every student. I hate to admit this type of reflection rarely happens. There is just so much going on. I rarely just sit down and think, really think, about my students as individuals. But when I stare at the blank note, I must actively review my relationship with each singular student. What did they teach me? How did they grow? Where are they going? Do I really know this student? Where did they mess up? Where did I mess up? Where did they succeed? Where did I succeed? What can I learn from them?

If I want to write a personalized note, I really have to mediate on the child whose name graces the envelope. I can’t gloss over the often forgotten quiet kid. I can’t rush over the kids who try my patience. Each student gets a chance. Popular? You get a note. Bully? You get a note. Genius? You get a note. Differently abled? You get a note. I reflect on each student. I learn that each student leaves something behind, each student makes me better.

As I contemplate each student, I smile. I realize how fortunate I am to work with young people each day. The awesome privilege of being a teacher is blatantly evident. What a great job I have!

Students give me awkward hugs and say thank you when they read their note. Parents rush over and shake my hand. They both ask for pictures. Little do they know, I wrote those notes for me just as much as for them.

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