I believe in her.

Sometimes I just don't know what to say.

I know; that's hard to believe. I am among the chattiest of Cathys, as you can all tell from my remarkably long-winded posts. And usually I'm just fine; I'm lucky enough to process quickly and so I can easily come up with replies to just about anything.

Note the "just about."

Because....I'm having a hard time with something.

I mentioned the other day that my student assistant, Bump It, is probably getting expelled. It's not definite yet, but it's likely - we run a three strikes kinda program for major offenses, and she fulfilled number three a couple of weeks ago (I'm not going to say anymore about why, just for confidentiality, even though this is already fairly anonymous). I heard about it from kids the next day, and was so sad; she's been my assistant since mid-October, which is when she transferred back to my school from the one she'd started at this year.

I'd had Bump It in 6th grade. Though she had some anger management and impulse control issues, they never came out in my classroom, so I was happy to try to mentor her when she returned. But in two thirds of the year, she never really opened up. She'd talk to me about stuff if I pushed, but only things I already knew about; maybe twice did she bring up anything new. But she was doing better than last year: grades, attendance, everything. I thought maybe she was growing up, and I was SO happy to see it.

And then. This.

A few days ago, a friend of Bump It's ran up to me and handed me a letter. I started to read it, but stopped halfway through; I knew from the first chunk that it would make me cry, and I couldn't do that before class. Later, I took the time to read it carefully, and I was right about the tears.

She feels hopeless. She's worried she'll never amount to anything. This has made her have goals - she wants to go to college, make something of herself, make her parents proud of her. That last part is especially important: right now, they think that she'll never amount to anything. Or at least that's what they tell her. (Most of my kids have awesome parents. But some make me sad.) She told me that the speeches I used to give her did make a difference, and she referenced a time that I asked her if she wanted to go to college. I don't actually remember this conversation, but apparently she said no, she didn't. And now she does, and she doesn't think she'll be able to.

I've been working on a reply. Here's what I've got so far.
Dear Bump It,

Thank you so much for your letter; I was so glad to hear from you. It made me really sad when I learned that you'd xxxxxxxxxxx, because you know I think you're so much more than that. I'm so sorry you're going through such a difficult time right now; you made a really bad choice and now you have to deal with the consequences (that's part of life), but what I want you to remember is that it was one choice, and it does not define who you are.

Bump It, you DO matter. You WILL be able to succeed. I'm so happy to hear that you want to go to college, because you're smart and capable, and you can do wonderful things with your life. Yes, you made a mistake. We all have. It doesn't end things for you.

Someone told me something once that has stuck with me ever since. She said, "Everyone makes mistakes. It's what we do after them that counts." I really believe that. None of us are perfect; we all mess up. It's what we do AFTER we mess up that defines who we are. You have an opportunity here to choose who you want to be, what direction you want to go. And you know the direction you want to go, and you can do it.

Whatever happens now, remember that this is just one part of your life, just one little part. It won't always be easy, and I know that. I know it feels huge right now - I know it's everything right now. But life goes on, and you will grow up, and things will get better. It might not help to hear that because it doesn't really feel real to you right now. Try to remember it, though, and try to focus on your goals for your future.

I want you to know that I will always be here for you and I will always believe in you. If you need help with something, call me. If you have a question, call me. If you want to just talk about life, call me. I believe in you. Believe in yourself.

Your friend,

Ms. Teachin'
What do you think? Okay? Lame? Should I change stuff?

(Image credit to Pink Sherbet Photography)


Clix said...

I think you should change "you will be able to succeed" to "you ARE able to succeed."

This made me a little weepy too :(

TeachEnEspanol said...

I feel like it is very honest and will reach her on a level that clearly shows that the two of you have a relationship.

The only thing that I might add to/edit is the part where you say it will get better because I think it would be realistic to include that it will get better but also sometimes worse and part of that growing up process that you reference will be her ability to handle and get through both.

Great job though. I love to see the real-life connections that you have with your students show up in your beautiful words.

teachin' said...

Thank you both for your comments - I'm changing!

Rachel said...

I like the recommendations made here, and overall just really like the letter. You don't cut corners in trying to soften the blow by saying it really wasn't that bad, it'll all be okay, etc. You firmly state it was a bad decision and that life means dealing with the reality of our decisions. Your support and encouragement come across well, too. Encouraging and realistic. I think it's a good letter! Are you saving a copy for your own records?

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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