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a letter to my son after the death of a teacher

October 23, 2013

Hey Buddy,

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.

Love,

Mom

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43 Comments leave one →
  1. Christine permalink
    October 23, 2013 9:39 pm

    I knew you’d write today, I was waiting for it! I knew you’d share wisdom that would help me continue trying to make sense of all this and ground me in some truth. You are so right- most kids are good. Thank you!

  2. Franny Kemp permalink
    October 23, 2013 9:47 pm

    L~ It makes me so sad to hear the vulnerability that you are feeling now. I think that happens instantaneously when you become a Mom. I don’t know what the future holds for you, in terms of your career, but I do know that regardless of the setting, you will always be a teacher. When I left working in a hospital, I never stopped using the skills that I was passionate about as a pediatric nurse. Those same attributes that made me a fulfilled nurse carried over to parenting…and raising YOU, a daughter that makes me proud every single day. I love you honey. Mom

  3. Angelisa C permalink
    October 24, 2013 8:25 am

    Thank you so very much for this. It is so needed at a time like this, when I question our society and whether I made the right career choice (in light of all the recent school violence that seems so unpredictable). As a fellow Mommy Teacher, I think the very things you have written. I will bookmark this and read it on days when those thoughts become overwhelming. Love and prayers.

  4. October 24, 2013 8:50 am

    My friend Cara shared your post on Facebook and I am grateful to read this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

  5. October 24, 2013 10:41 am

    Wow, incredibly moving! I love your statement “Most kids are good” and
    I cried when you wrote… “Most” not “All”
    I will be using this statement the next time my kids share their nervousness with me.
    How reassuring to know that “Most” of the people in their lives have a positive impact on who our kids become!

  6. Lorrey permalink
    October 24, 2013 1:41 pm

    As a former DHS student, a mother of Danvers Public Schools graduates and, hopefully, a future DHS teacher, I thank you for sharing your feelings. You are all so amazing and our children would not be who they are without the influence of the great teachers in the world!!! Stay strong and know that we are all with you in these tough times.

  7. October 24, 2013 5:23 pm

    To all fellow teachers out there.and to all students….most kids are good! Please be one of the good ones…….

  8. Cynthia permalink
    October 24, 2013 6:08 pm

    As a teacher and mom, I thank you for writing this. You are a beautiful writer.

  9. October 24, 2013 6:12 pm

    Brilliant and touching. I would like to believe all mothers feel this way, My prayers are with ALL effected by this tragedy; Yes, Mrs. Chism-who is also a mom too. Teachers truly are, amazing human beings. thank you

  10. October 24, 2013 6:15 pm

    I love how your mom left a comment. My mom does that on my blog too; it’s great. Sometimes she even disagrees with me. My two year old is holding a chicken leg and watching La-La-Oopsy or whatever that new cartoon is. I am crying all over my Macbook reading your post. Thank you for sharing. I am from Danvers. My best friend’s son was in Philip’s class. I say was because there’s no way he’s going back there, ever again. I don’t know what the future holds for him, but let’s keep the future bright for our loving, smart and hilarious children and students. Thank you.

  11. Debbi permalink
    October 24, 2013 8:46 pm

    You really hit the nail on the head. My daughter said, “what if it was you?” No one can guarantee safety but we can look out for each other and know that most kids are good. So many more than are not. We keep showing up for them and the ones at home.

  12. Kelly permalink
    October 24, 2013 9:34 pm

    One of my former students (who is now a teacher herself) posted this on Facebook and I am so glad I read it! I agree… MOST KIDS ARE GOOD!!!! I have seen and taught so many kids over the last 18 years and yes, they have changed since I started. But the general nature of most of them is the same…young, insecure, looking for reassurance from those in their lives that everything will be okay, and pretty much good kids!!! I went back to school today with no fear about what I might face… I have always known that there are some kids out there that struggle with some sort of demons, but that can be said about the people next to you in the grocery store, the movie theater, etc. I can choose to stay locked up in the safety of my house or live my life…. I choose to trust in the goodness of MOST people and live!

  13. October 24, 2013 10:46 pm

    Poignent and beautiful.

  14. October 24, 2013 11:13 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder. Sometimes when I tell people I meet that I teach high school, they will remark how brave I am – teenagers are scary in their minds. But even though there are of course exceptions, I know in my heart and to my core that MOST KIDS ARE GREAT! Hugs to all of you in Danvers – we grieve with you.

  15. Debbie permalink
    October 25, 2013 12:41 am

    True- and the vast majority of all people are good too…

  16. October 25, 2013 8:21 am

    This is beautiful. I’m a DHS grad (’87) and also wrote a blog post about this tragedy, though from a very different perspective. I loved what you wrote, and quoted you in a response to someone last night, “most kids are good.” They absolutely are. This is all so heartbreaking. Again, this is so beautifully written, I shared it on Facebook yesterday and plan to share it further. You really had an impact with this post, and I think it could help a lot of people dealing with this horrible event in our hometown. Hug that sweet boy extra tight.

  17. K. Maitland permalink
    October 25, 2013 8:27 am

    As a retired teacher who taught thousands of students, I agree. Most of my kids were awesome, beyond awesome, or unbelievably beyond awesome. I could count the ‘problems’ of forty+ years in the classroom on my two hands and still have fingers left over. Will we ever know the ‘why’ behind these senseless acts? Probably not. And that, unfortunately, is the one question teachers will not be able to answer. I wish you and your son peace.

  18. Francine Weinandy permalink
    October 25, 2013 8:45 am

    Teachers are heroes. Thank you.

  19. Melanie permalink
    October 25, 2013 10:53 am

    Thank you very much for sharing this blog and reminding us that most of humanity is good! My husband just started at night going to get his Masters in Elementary Education/Special Education after spending the past 17 years in corporate sales. I look forward to the children he can affect positively in their lives.

  20. Mary Beth G. permalink
    October 25, 2013 11:53 am

    A teacher friend of mine posted this on FB, and I’m so grateful to have read it today. Beautiful sentiment, full of truth and hope. Thank you.

  21. October 25, 2013 12:21 pm

    Heartfelt and wise, rolled into one. Thank you for writing this!

  22. October 25, 2013 2:39 pm

    Wow, such beautiful, meaningful writing! As a newly retired teacher of 38 years, and a single Mom of a 27 & 23 year old, I want to say the same things to my children and fellow educators. I have had my frightening moments, I hated that I had to do lock-down with my frightened Kindergarten students, and dreaded parent conferences that I felt could become hostile. Yet, I loved my job, loved my students, and many parents. I pray for the safety of educators and students today.

  23. Jeanne permalink
    October 25, 2013 2:47 pm

    Incredible words. Thank you for having the courage to walk into school everyday to teach the “good kids”.

  24. October 25, 2013 4:09 pm

    If we let ourselves roam through the tragic we forget to enjoy, relax and remember the good. Thanks

  25. Gail permalink
    October 25, 2013 4:22 pm

    Your son is so fortunate to have such a passionate mom/teacher/mentor nurturing him.
    I am in tears and love how you expressed yourself. May we all be safe and loved.

  26. dave pendell permalink
    October 25, 2013 4:38 pm

    I retired 6 years ago after 36 years in the classroom. I am still being surprised when I meet kids who we teachers did not think of as good kids, who have become mature, good adults. When I talk to them they most allways credit teachers for teaching, showing, and demanding that they can do the right things. For every one that creates heartaches, there are many more that have come to understand what teachers have done for them. Work through the heartache, know that you make a difference to a lot of otherwise lost kids, and be proud of what you do!

  27. Morgan Flagg-Detwiler permalink
    October 25, 2013 6:18 pm

    Thank you so so so much for writing this. I am not a mother yet, but I am a high school teacher and I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly. Most kids are good.

    Your words really struck a chord with me and brought tears to my eyes. I love teaching, good days and bad. I love my students, as if they were my own.

    Keep being a wonderful Mommy, and a fantastic teacher. The world can never have too many of either.

  28. Heather permalink
    October 25, 2013 7:52 pm

    Thank you for sharing this articulate post…As a teacher/counselor/social worker for the past 20+ years, I couldn’t agree with you more, “Most Kids are Great.” And with that said, may we find the wisdom and the way, to help those kids who continue to struggle in silence, and do not have the supports they need, when they need them the most.

  29. Sarah permalink
    October 25, 2013 9:50 pm

    Love. This. I’m a new mommy to a son – thank you for the reminder. I think most people are good too, but it is sad we can never let our guard down.

  30. Sarah permalink
    October 26, 2013 7:30 am

    I don’t know…I still think all kids are good. It is something within their experiences and how their adolescent undeveloped frontal lobes process these experiences that has them making bad choices. We need to figure this out, and quick!

    • Louise Lang permalink
      October 27, 2013 12:43 am

      I agree with you Sarah; the question here is how can we help those children before they compulsively go forth and decide to act out violently.

  31. Lisa permalink
    October 26, 2013 7:50 am

    What a beautiful letter. Ironically, yesterday at the college I work at (RIC) we had an active shooter seminar. The first video was of Columbine. I hope I never have to see it again. At that moment my heart broke and I thought of my two kids, one at the college I’m at and the other in a fantastic middle school. I pray that they are safe everyday as well as the rest of the campuses. Hug your kids tighter everyday.

  32. Lynn permalink
    October 26, 2013 8:45 am

    This is so beautiful, and although I’m not a teacher, you perfectly expressed what has been on my mind. For the past year or so, I say a prayer each day my children leave for school. I hate that I even need to think of that. I thank you for what you do, you sound like an amazing teacher and your students are so fortunate to have you.

  33. annemarie permalink
    October 26, 2013 10:01 am

    Thank you for sharing this! You put into writing what I think many “Mommy Teachers” are feeling. You are right “most kids are good!”

  34. Diane Griffin permalink
    October 26, 2013 10:17 am

    I am a current Algebra teacher of 9th graders who has been teaching for 31 years. It is getting tougher to continue but I still love it! And you are so right that most kids are good! I really needed to read your blog today after a week of tragedy including a 2 hour shelter in place at my school on Thursday. God bless you and all teachers!

  35. Aunt Sally permalink
    October 26, 2013 10:38 am

    L., I’ve been thinking about you this week. Sometimes with all of the bad in the world it’s hard to remember the good, but I think you nailed it. Kiss G. on his sweet head for me.

  36. Beth young permalink
    October 26, 2013 4:53 pm

    Yes most kids are good. And thank you to all the teachers that do the second hardest job(the first is being a parent). My daughter being in special needs , I depend on her teachers to keep her safe. So as much as we don’t say it thank you to all the great teachers and all the school staff for doing a great job every day. And always remember most kids are good.

  37. Susan Kelly permalink
    October 26, 2013 4:57 pm

    I am a teacher and the mother of some awesome grown sons. I have shared your link on Facebook, along with a personal anecdote from our concert last Wednesday. Thank you for writing so honestly and your community is in my prayers.

  38. Kathy Dole Meltsakos permalink
    October 27, 2013 8:45 am

    Excellent letter, thank you for helping to explain why we choose to work in public education!! I am proud to say I am a para-educator, I love what I do and most kids are great!

  39. Nancy permalink
    October 27, 2013 2:31 pm

    All kids start out good, so how do we, as a society, figure out how a kid ends up doing something like this? If we don’t figure it out, we are destined to face more tragedies. I live in Danvers, a graduate with 2 kids graduating from DHS. I can’t imagine what either of the families involved are going through. I don’t believe in a ‘bad kid’. I refuse to just assign this to evil. We need to be doing far better for our kids, and for our teachers. I have an infant grand-daugher, I don’t want to be afraid for her safety every day. Thank you for showing up every day and teaching our kids.

  40. October 28, 2013 8:54 pm

    Very touching! I should do something similar for my baby grandson whose development I’m not being allowed to follow. There’s one factor that’s being overlooked by most people: all the medication (antidepressants, Ritalin and the like, etc., being dispensed to babies & children has been highly associated to the acts of violence, including suicide, being practiced by our youth! This TRUTH has to be acknowledged in order to prevent the worst! The same goes for many adults practicing such horrendous crimes…good luck to ALL of us!

Trackbacks

  1. Most Kids are Good. | SoSheSpeaks
  2. Rough Week for Teachers | Saving the World, One Second Grader at a Time!

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