Friday, May 29, 2015

Letter to the Class of 2016

My first year of teaching was a nightmarish procession of so many aspects of my poor, unskilled vision being met with an ever poorer reality, but I did start one tradition that year that I've kept to this day: at the end of the year, I wrote a letter to my class.  I express myself best in writing, and a letter was the only way I knew of that I could possibly sift through the complexity of that difficult year to wish my students luck, thank them for the year, and let them know I cared.

In spite of all that had passed between us that year, the students told me that they appreciated my letter, and that it had meant a lot to them.  Since then, I've written a letter to my students at the end of each school-year.  As a teacher of writing, I feel strongly that to close the year with a letter is to model the love for writing that I earnestly hope my students will carry away from my classes.  Of course, I hope my students know that I care about them without a letter telling them so, but nonetheless, there are some things too important to leave unsaid.  

For fellow teachers who might read this post: what are the ways in which you consciously let your students know that you care for them?  

Here is the letter that I wrote to the class of 2016 and handed to them on Wednesday.  It came from the heart, and I chose to publicly share this letter more for the sake of bragging on this talented group than anything else:


Dear Class of Twenty-Sixteen,
On the first day of class more than nine months ago, I made a promise that I would strive to teach you with so much integrity that it would literally overflow from me.  I also invited and challenged you to learn with integrity--a deeper quality than mere honesty, rather a commitment to be one’s self at every turn.  Together, we faced a choice of two paths: the safe, yet boring path of keeping to ourselves; or the dangerous, yet joyful path of investing in one another with that profound integrity.  Now, as our journey together draws to a close, I look back fondly at the road we’ve walked. 

We chose joy.  You chose joy as you shared from the heart the stories of how you came to be at CAJ.  I chose joy as I sang an assortment of songs, some Disney, some not.  You chose joy as you met to plan your charity event.  I chose joy as I told stories, not only from the deepest reaches of American History, but from my own life as well.  You chose joy as you welcomed a record-breaking number of new classmates into the community of 2016.  I chose joy as I read each essay carefully enough to make relevant comments and offer the best feedback I could.  Even if other parts of your life this year were hectic, stressful, or perhaps even painful, it is my sincere hope that the time we spent together was a source of joy for you, as it was for me.

In a discussion near the end of our first unit, I asked you to think about which graduating class had been the most legendary in your mind.  A few clear contenders emerged, and you spoke of those classes with a sort of awe and admiration.  Since that conversation, you have lived more than thirty eventful weeks.  In that time, you organized and hosted a cultural festival that will not be soon forgotten, to raise funds for Ebola research.  You set a new record, and a new standard of excellence for the Spring Thrift Shop.  You heard a record number of classmates voice their desire to serve on the Senior Council.  In addition to these things, the class of 2016 was well-represented in FarEast tournaments, in concerts, and on stage.  You are a class who inspires respect and fondness in the underclassmen, and I have no doubt that in four or five years, when I ask future classes the same question that I asked you in that discussion so many weeks ago, more than a few will be quick to say “the class of 2016.”

In the same breath, I place before you a challenge: you have made a name for yourself as Juniors and believe me, I’m tremendously proud of what you have accomplished already.  Don’t stop there.  Senior year is a year of opportunity; a year of influence; a year of leadership.  It is also a year where you will likely feel taxed and tired, ready to graduate and get on with your life.  Do not check out too soon.  Be the class that leads till the end; the class that finishes with a sprint, not a stagger.  Your legacy is your own to mold: all eyes are on you and at your cue, your underclassmen will respond.  It is with this in mind that “Becoming people of justice” must go from being a thesis statement on a long essay, to a personal reality.  You know which characteristics will come naturally, but you also know which will be most challenging for you... perhaps it’s selflessness or humility; perhaps it’s courage or love; perhaps it’s empathy or agency.  God has given each of you incredible gifts and a tremendous capacity to bless those around you with those gifts.  It has been a joy to watch you develop those gifts in the time we’ve spent together, and I must now take the difficult and heart-breaking step of letting you go, and trust that you will continue to use your many gifts for God’s glory.

Prepare yourself for the task ahead: rest up this summer.  Read, relax, spend quality time with your family and friends.  Make sure to spend some time doing absolutely nothing--lie down in the grass and watch the clouds roll by.  When you return in August, it will be your year.

To the class of 2016: it has been a privilege of the highest order to be your teacher, your advisor, your number-one fan, and your friend.  I will miss you terribly, but I am also excited to see what each of you will do next year as Seniors, and beyond.  

Love in Christ,

Mr. Gibson

I must confess that the letters were typed, not handwritten. 

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