a letter to my son after the death of a teacher
It’s me. Mom.
You’re asleep upstairs. You’re probably wedged into the corner of your crib right now, with your thumb in your mouth and Blue Hippo tucked under your other hand. You’ve probably turned your head so that your nose faces the ratty old t-shirt that smells like me – the one I stuck along the side of your crib that I conveniently keep forgetting to wash. But you don’t seem to mind.
I just made your lunch. I packed all of your favorites into the small Tupperwares with the red lids and zipped them all inside your robot lunch box. I don’t know too many one-year-olds with robot lunch boxes, so that makes you pretty cool. Coincidentally, I also don’t know too many one-year-olds who can say the word “robot” the way you can, so tonight I declare you to be officially pretty cool and pretty smart. My God, buddy, with those qualities, you’ll rule the world.
But I digress.
I’m avoiding the purpose of my letter, so here goes nothing:
Pal, a sad thing happened today. A teacher died at a school in our town. She was a teacher, like Mommy, and she died doing a job she seemed to really love. Mommy didn’t know her at all, but it is still really sad for many, many reasons.
I’m afraid you’re going to grow up in a society where unsafe things happening at school will no longer be unexpected. I think by the time you have your first box of pencils, many adults will no longer feel as shocked or horrified as we once did by tragic (that means sad) events occurring in the places kids go to learn. We will become de-sensitized (that means numb, which means no feelings) to teachers and kids dying at the hands of others. I’m afraid we’ll almost expect a lack of safety in schools, and likewise expect a lack of trust from the students in those schools.
But kiddo, I’m writing to tell you a truth I learned very early on in my life. I’m writing to tell you a truth I want you to hear and try to never forget. I want you to remember these words on playgrounds and in school bathrooms and on the soccer field at recess. I want you to know that,
most kids are good.
Most kids are good kids. Most kids are awesome kids. Most kids love learning, love being together, and love school. All kids are trying to figure themselves out. All kids are making mistakes as they go. But buddy please don’t ever forget that,
most kids are good.
Let me tell you about some of my students. Are you ready? They’re hilarious. You might start laughing. Here goes:
- there’s the boy who walks into my classroom everyday with a Prince Harry joke for me. He knows I love Prince Harry. He goes out of his way to learn a new fact about him on the news and harass me with the information. I love it. It’s so funny.
- there’s another boy who is reading “The Maze Runner” for the first time. He can’t get enough of it. He comes into my room before school starts to talk with me about the book. I overflow with teacher joy.
- there’s a girl who didn’t feel confident about her writing at the start of the year. I won’t lie to you, she struggled on her first assignment. But on her second assignment – wow – she knocked it out of the park. She blew me away with her thoughts and poise. I remember giving her the second assignment back, with a really good grade on it. She absolutely beamed. But she beamed privately at her seat and didn’t make a fuss to anyone about it. That’s how Mommy knew it really meant the world to her.
- a student gave me a mini-Twix bar yesterday. So that was great.
- a kid emailed me with a question about something on the Homework Calendar on my website. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR – they actually use my homework calendar!?! VICTORY IS MINE!
- this morning, a student tried to barter with me. He told me he’d read the challenging book I recommended, so long as I agreed to write a letter of reference for him. I told him he’s such a stand-out student that I’d gladly, and with enthusiasm, write the recommendation even if he was reading The Bernstein Bears, but that he still had to read the challenge book. His awkward laugh and shy smile when he registered the reality of my compliment was perfect. He left feeling like the gifted young man he is.
Most kids are good. I am reminded time and again, each day, of the power behind that statement. I show up to work and am impressed, challenged, encouraged, and pushed beyond the limits of my imagination by the young men and women who walk through my classroom door. I love spending my days with kids, buddy, I really do.
But more than I love them, I love you. Before I knew I wanted to be a teacher or a writer or a wanna-be actress, I knew I wanted to be a mom. And I hate that there are days, and weeks, and months when I fear for your safety and mine, when I think about having to choose our physical well-being over my love of teaching. I hate that there are some days when my anxiety upon walking through the doors to my school is palpable, that I have to fight my thoughts and pray away my tears. I hate that I have to pray fervently for your protection, and that there are parents who have lost their wholeness because schools aren’t always the safe places they should be.
I hate that I have to use the word “most” and not “all.”
I hate that the reason I’m writing this letter is because a young teacher lost her life.
I will try to shield you from the news as you grow up, sweet boy. I will try to protect you from the truths I don’t think you’re ready for. I will try to help you make sense of the world around you, as you also seek to make sense of words like grace and love and holiness. I will try, sweet boy, I will try.
But for whatever you see, whatever you hear, whatever you start to question and doubt like all of the adults around you do now, please don’t ever forget,
most kids are good.
For however long Mommy’s a teacher, she loved every single day of it.
Let’s hold hands when we walk into school together tomorrow, okay? I think we’ll both feel braver that way.
See you in the morning. I’ll try not to burn your waffles like I did yesterday.