Saturday, July 3, 2010

Dear Me: Learning from Letters to Ourselves

I was listening to NPR yesterday and heard a wonderful story about an idea Cassie Boorn had for a blog project.  She shared an open request for women in their 30s and 40s to write a letter to themselves at age 20.  The results are pretty great, as well as therapeutic and educational for all readers.  Here are a few letter excerpts:
"Thank you for working so hard to put yourself through school. Thank you for eating potato chips for breakfast while you still can. Thank you for wearing the tight dress. And shut up — your ass looks amazing." — Maggie Mason to her 20-year-old self
"Don’t stop writing poetry.  It’s so hard to start again and you have
talent, and you will miss it later on."  -Melanie to her 20-year old self
 "...that kind of love you want, that you don’t think exists? It exists. You will find it. It will find you, actually. So calm down. Not everything is such a big deal. Get some sleep and have some fun."  -32 year old Sarah to her 20-year old self
"Your college is full of amazing people and events and guest speakers, and you should really, really take more advantage of that. Also, it's not such a bad thing to get passionate about a cause, or take sides on things. I know conflict makes you a bit uncomfortable, but some things are definitely worth having an opinion on, even if it makes you and some other people a bit uneasy"  -30 year old Rachel to her 20 year old self
So, why am I sharing this here?  First, because I find it extremely moving and motivational and that's just simply a good thing to share.  Secondly, Cassie's outstanding concept seems like it would be interesting of we twisted the focus from women to educators.  For those of you who have been teaching awhile, what advice would you write to yourself when you first started teaching?  Think about how valuable your advice could be to other new teachers.

Here's my letter to myself as a new teacher:
Wow, congratulations!  You did it!  You got the job of your dreams.  It's going to be way harder than you ever imagined but also more rewarding than you could fathom. You are soon going to realize that you don't do things like the teachers you had in school and you need to embrace that uniqueness and see it as a strength.  If you think you see a better way, try it!  Teach to your own style and do what's right for your students. And don't be so afraid to let your students into the dialogue.  Once you do it, you'll be so much happier and enjoy your time with them so much more.
You will soon teach online.  The concerns you have about your students feeling disconnected are legitimate.  Follow your instinct.  You will find new tools and approaches that will blow your mind and change everything you think you know about teaching. 
Don't teach summer session.  Take a break -- MAKE yourself.
Believe it or not, changing the world isn't your responsibility.  Be genuine to yourself and your family.  Share your ideas openly and you will make changes, slowly, in the world around you.  Be more patient and embrace the ripples in the water.  They are beautiful. Don't get so frustrated when others don't see things your way.  You're a teacher; teach them. 
You will find inspiration in every student you meet, one way or another, even the students that make you want to never teach again.  You'll think about them years later and realize how much you learned from them. 
Life is a journey.  Expect change.  There will be a lot of it in your future.
Michelle, eight years later
Care to contribute your own letter to yourself as a new teacher?  Please do so in a comment!
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