A Letter to My Student: Dear F (5th grade)

(Over the holidays, and maybe beyond, I want to write candid letters to students I have had. Some I have taught for a day, some for a year. These are things I wish I could have or would have said to them. An arbitrary initial has been chosen to ensure privacy. The grade is when I taught them. )

Dear F,

Perhaps my hardest day as a teacher was one I shared with you. Not because you did something wrong, but because you finally let me in on what has been happening in your heart and mind.

Up until that day, I knew that there was a lot brewing under the surface. You would shut down on a regular basis and avoid talking to me. Your homeroom teacher couldn’t connect with you. You would write “I wish I was dead” in your notebook, but would never elaborate in person. Honestly, I was at a loss. I only knew that I couldn’t give up… you needed someone to press in and really show up.

Then one day during lunch, you and another student were talking about times when you thought your house was broken into. You started to tell a story and then burst in to tears. For the next 30 minutes you cried and shared a whole series of stories with me that you had never told anyone.

You told me how your dad used to hit you, but had stopped since he got remarried. You told me how you were afraid he was going to get divorced from her and start hitting you again. You told me about a ghost that lived in your dad’s house who was the only person you could talk to. You told me that the reason you didn’t want to live with your mom was because the ghost couldn’t follow you to her house. You told me how you didn’t want to die, but it felt so hard to keep living.

I wasn’t prepared for any of that, but I had also been waiting for it this whole time. I sat and cried with you. There is no good response to that information so I just shared your sorrow. My heart was broken in so many ways for this burden you were had been carrying entirely alone. I wanted to fix everything, but there’s no way I could do that.

And a few weeks after this conversation, I was done with my position there and have seen you only once or twice since then. So here is what I hope you are learning:

You deserve to be loved by someone who is safe and good. You deserve to have a man in your life who doesn’t make you afraid you’ll be hurt. You deserve to have a friend or teacher you can trust. If you bottle your fears and hurt inside, it will literally kill you. It might be physically, emotionally, or spiritually, but keeping it to yourself will slowly and surely destroy the best parts of you.

I beg you to keep living. As a person and an artist, you have so much to offer the world. As someone who has survived an abusive home, you have hope to give to others. Please don’t stop fighting no matter how hard it is.

That conversation shook me to my core, but I will treasure it forever. You trusted me first and that is no small thing.

I pray that you feel the strength of a living hope. I pray that you fight. I pray that you continue to trust.


Your resource teacher, Mr. Johnson


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