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


A Letter to My Student: Dear S (2nd 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 S,

It has been over a year and a half since I met you and said goodbye to you. Our 6 or so weeks together were not easy, but they were good.

When I came into your class, I knew you would be hard to pin down. You had a lot of anxiety about reading, a lot of crap going on at home, and a hard time expressing yourself. And you didn’t know me from Adam. We pushed through and forged a trust.

You were important to me. My hard kids are always important to me, but you even more so. Your young aunt was taking care of you because your parents couldn’t. The time I put in to help you feel safe and successful is not time I put for every student. It was a gift I joyfully gave to you, whether it felt like a gift or not.

I spent most of the school day, especially reading, watching the door across the room in case you tried to run out. I spent a good chunk of reading lessons teaching in front of the door, watching you tip over your desk and chairs to see if I would come stop you… so you could run out. I’m sure it did not feel like it at the time, but these were my ways of loving you.

Your life was out of control, so I gave you as much control as I could. You had your own nook in the classroom. You got learning options other kids didn’t have and time with friends in class that others didn’t get. You needed to feel safe in my classroom, and I hope these things helped to that end.

But because your life was out of control, I needed to give you boundaries. You couldn’t do whatever you wanted. If I gave you two choices, you couldn’t pick a third. You needed structure and accountability. I know you were angry with me when I would hold the door shut so you couldn’t leave, but you needed someone to give you a firm, “No.” Those days were hard. It did not make me happy to set and hold those boundaries, but you needed them.

On our last day together, our whole class got to say goodbye. It absolutely broke my heart to watch you and C hug each other and cry. I had never seen you sad before. Angry, happy, tired, but never sad. The two of you cried for nearly 10 minutes. Not dramatic tears but good, honest, hurting tears.

My prayer for you is that you find more friends who you love and who love you like C. My hope is that you find a teacher and parent in your life who loves you enough to ‘teach from the door.’ And when they give you boundaries, I pray that you can trust that they love you and might have some wisdom to offer.

You got dealt a hard deck in life. Trust and love are going to be hard for you. But they are so worth it. The feeling of being safe is worth the risk of heartbreak. May God lead you to safe, loving people.

I miss you.


Your second grade teacher, Mr. Johnson