To the Hardest Class I Ever Taught,

I am so happy you graduated years ago. I can’t even imagine teaching you through a screen after March of 2020.

Remember our lesson about the life cycle of a chrysalis? I assigned a paragraph to read and instructions to highlight where you found proof that butterflies come from cocoons. I read the paragraph aloud, modeled the activity, but when I looked up, one of you had drawn a long stripe of highlighter across your forehead.

“What did you do?” I fumed.

“You said to highlight where we found the answer…I got it from my brain.”

Then there was you (the first of thirteen siblings) whose hand raised for everything. In order to demonstrate where the answer should go, in the spirit of Lorem ipsum dolor, I typed a nonsensical message, banging at random keys with fingertips. Sure enough, up the hand went, “I don’t know what that means.”

“You don’t have to know. It’s gibberish.”

“But I don’t know gibberish. No one ever taught me to speak that language.”

Or what about the thank you card for receiving a sweatshirt with our school’s name. In stacked, angular handwriting you printed, “Thank you for the shirt. Every day now, I look sexy.” I suggested that ‘sexy’ might not be the best choice when writing to a school administrator.

“Why not?” you blinked. “It is in every TV show and commercial for things that are pretty.”

How about the time when one of you came running into class with urgency, blushing, “What’s a virgin?” I explained as carefully as can be while you looked off into the distance with contemplation, “so a virgin is someone like me.” Your friend clacked from the opposite corner of the classroom, chimed in.

“You’re not a virgin, fool! I saw you in the cafeteria eating meat!”

I was surprised when the most shy of you, so seemingly innocent, responded to a question about how bees pollinate. You provided the description of a dance, which led to the bee climbing into a flower, “motorboating” it, and then fleeing. I returned the quiz and pointed to the word.

“What exactly did you mean here?”

You looked me straight in the eyes. “Doesn’t motorboat mean to shake something?”

And then there was the argument right before Thanksgiving break. When you ganged up together and called Black Friday a holiday.

“Black Friday is not a holiday.”

You cocked your heads in unison. “But why? We get school off for it,” you nodded at each other emphatically. “Stores stay open all night in celebration.”

“Big sales!” The tallest of you dinged.

This Thanksgiving was different, though. You all probably don’t know. I don’t teach at that school anymore. I resigned, then moved, in the middle of a pandemic.

And you. You know which one you are. You were the hardest of them all. You were so angry, so combative, so frail, small, and weak. Whenever I gave you a compliment, or asked how you were doing, you’d turn your head, glare sideways and grumble, “You don’t know me.”

But maybe I knew more than you’d think. Because every day you asked what I was eating. If I offered to share, you’d scoff, and throw hands up in the air. So I started leaving snacks around and announcing, “Anyone want this? I’m just going to throw it away.” You’d snatch with a dismissive shrug, then shove the food into a backpack.

I had to do the same thing later that year when I noticed you didn’t have a proper jacket to wear. So I snipped a tag, wrinkled one up, and reported to the group, “No one has claimed this in months. Do you know someone who could use it? Otherwise, it will be donated.” You grabbed the jacket and held it up.

“It will fit my uncle,” stated with apathy. But you were the one wearing it the very next day.

Or remember when one of you started waving scissors around? “Scissors,” I said, “Cut paper.” I demonstrated. You frowned. And then buried your head into your elbows and refused to speak. You did that a lot during those first few weeks. Years later, I saw you in a drive-thru. You handed me a soda through a window and asked, “Teacher, miss! Why are you crying?”

You just shared with me your acceptance to the local university.

Or how about the time I took all of you outside to conduct an experiment about wind with decorated flags. One of the flags became tangled high in a tree. From below, we watched the it struggle against the leaves and branches, fighting angles and degrees. It seemed to be literally consumed by the tree. The flag dissipated, no more yellow and blue to see. We held our breath. All went still. And then then from underneath the canopy, like a tear streaming, the flag floated to the ground. Shortly after, one of you followed from underneath, silently dropping to your feet.

“You can’t do that!” I screamed. “What if something happened to you?” You shrugged, presented the flag to me.

“I don’t understand what is wrong,” you quipped. “That was easy.”

I hung those flags from the ceiling in my classroom, like one thousand paper cranes flapping in ventilated air currents. They remained there until the end, even though most of you graduated by 2016. I didn’t take much the day I cleaned out the room and turned in my keys. But I packed up the flags and put the box into the back of my Jeep.

I also kept the heart-shaped snow globe and the cartoon one of you drew. I pressed the rose you gave me between the pages of our textbook; its color and beauty still preserved between sheets of wax paper. This part you probably don’t know. Remember the surprise shower you threw? At seven years old, my daughter still carries the stuffed animal you pooled together for me. She named him Guy. Guy doesn’t look much like a sheep anymore; he has no more stuffing. I don’t mind. Neither does she because Guy is a part of each and every one of you.

Like the twins with the same sounding names who sat me in the classroom after school one day. They covered the windows with construction paper to release their long wavy hair. We sat in a circle, giggling under harsh cinderblock fluorescents, singing the lyrics of epics. They wrapped my head in silken scarves the colors of moon and sky, and breathed mythical tunes about a white, marbled shrine.

And you, with tiny, thin plaits and a gold nose ring. I caught you reading during a quiz and crying quietly. You slipped the book back out with an apology, the cover revealing a boy in flip flops shouldering large artillery. Swiping eyes, you whispered, “I relate to the story.” Then you shared yours; revealing portraits of reconciliation and what it means to truly forgive. You gave me a card at graduation; I still have it.

“I worked hard to heal.”

I received another card once. A different year. It came from Paloma, right before a break. I read it on an airplane, choked breath through tears. If I’m honest, the pain is still too raw to reveal what she wrote in there.

We struggled so hard to communicate, to understand our wants and needs. In the beginning, I’d shed secret tears of sadness and frustration. Yet at the end of each class period, despite the day’s challenges, every single one of you smiled, looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you, teacher-miss.”

I could never understand why you said that. It felt uncomfortable to hear. That’s why I want so badly for you to discover yourself in this letter. I should have been doing the thanking. You were the ones who taught me.

You didn’t even speak much English.





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No Real Balance

No Real Balance

Please share: I want my letters to make it home. They’re for real-life people. If we are all connected by six degrees, my words could be for someone you know.