To the students I had my first year teaching, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time getting to know who you are outside of the classroom. You see, in college, they made a really big deal about not getting too chummy with students for fear of crossing lines, especially because we would be so close in age as first-year teachers. Shame on them. And shame on me for listening to their scare tactics. I now operate in a learning environment with positive professional relationships with students as its foundation. I wish I could have done that for you.
I’m sorry it was business all the time. I was unaware that a day of simple conversation with students could be as — if not more — critical to their development as a well-planned and perfectly timed lesson. I am so much more willing to forgo the day’s plans when it’s obvious students need love more than grammar exercises. I wish I had been willing to do the same with you.
I’m sorry I delivered sub-par instruction. I thought I knew my content well, but now that I’ve got a decade under my belt, I know there was so much more I had to learn. If you could see what my students are doing today, you would be shocked that you, too, once had the same teacher. The difference is, I am not the same. I am an entirely different person and educator. I wish I could have been this person and educator for you.
I’m sorry I was not more flexible with you. I was afraid that flexibility might be perceived as weakness. I was afraid that with flexibility I would be sacrificing fairness. I did not yet know that fair does not always mean equal. I am now much more cognizant of my students’ individual needs. I am aware that there is more than one way to get to an end goal and that not everyone has to follow the same path. I wish I could have been more open and willing to work with you.
I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time attending your functions and sports competitions outside of school. Now that I have children, I don’t have the time to do these things as often as I once did. I wish I had used that time to let you know I care about you in ways other than how you perform in the classroom.
I’m sorry I let the stress of the job affect my interactions with you. I reacted emotionally and personally to things I shouldn’t have. I am now much more expert at handling my role as the adult in the classroom, separating my emotions from my professional duties. I wish I had been better at being there for you when you acted out.
I’m sorry I didn’t know more about the way your lives outside of school impacted your affect in school. I mistook your exhaustion from taking on the role of parent for your siblings and your fear of what abuse awaited you when you left the building for apathy. I am now much more in tune with my students’ personal circumstances and the ways those circumstances influence their desires and abilities to learn. I wish I could have been as perceptive for you.
I’m sorry I provided mediocre feedback on your assignments and assessments. There were so many standards and benchmarks to meet by grade level that I thought I had to assess you based on every single one that might apply. I am much better at selecting a handful of objectives and planning backwards to ensure student mastery of content, and my feedback is much more detailed because of it. I wish I had been as adept at providing you with helpful criticism and praise.
I’m sorry I didn’t branch out of my comfort zone to teach you in new and exciting ways. Just because we were lacking in resources doesn’t mean I couldn’t have used my creativity to spark your interest. I am now helping students master literary skills in countless ways, from traditional reading and writing in the classroom to communication with students and individuals outside the classroom and around the country. I wish I could have been as forward-thinking for you then as I am now.
I’m sorry I was so serious all the time. I hadn’t yet attained the humility and confidence it takes to laugh at oneself. I no longer shy away from joking with students or poking fun at my own shortcomings. I wish I had been more human with you.
I’m sorry I let the politics of education get in the way of providing you with stellar learning experiences. I’m sorry we spent much more time on preparing for standardized tests and meeting standardized curriculum goals than on learning to be critical thinkers and civic-minded citizens. I no longer let the powers that be dictate exclusively what I do in my classroom. Sure, I follow the rules, but I’m also not afraid to bend the rules for the benefit of my students. I wish I could have had the guts to do that for you.
I’m sorry I didn’t tell you how amazing you are. I was so caught up in fulfilling the responsibilities to which I was assigned, I overlooked the importance of filling you in on your potential. I now make time to tell my students when I am impressed with their effort and their work, and I am. Impressed, that is. I wish you could have known just how impressed I was with you.
I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to learn from you. Except I did learn from you, even when I wasn’t necessarily open to it. It is because of you I am the teacher I am today, and it is because of you that I regularly reflect on the knowledge my students have imparted on me. I wish I would have set aside my own self-importance to recognize how much you had to teach me then.
Most of all, I’m sorry if I didn’t see you. I mean really see you. Just know that I see you now. And I thank you for putting up with me.
What would you say to the students you had your first year teaching?