Yes, I am the mom of four daughters – ages 2 1/2 to a few days shy of 18 – in a blending family home. But, I am also a teacher of high school students. This year, sophomores. Years prior- sophomores, freshmen, and seniors. Each year, they actually teach me to not take myself too seriously, allow them to be children (in every facet), and most importantly, be sure each new day they have a fresh start in our shared classroom. I get to know them – the real them – through their reading and writing.
Writers become writers through inspiration of profound writers. As secondary language arts teachers, we lean on these authors to motivate our students encouraging emulation. At the start of the school year, our team’s collaboration landed on a vision for our students (& us) to feel Jason Reynolds’ motivation through his Ten Things I Have Been Meaning to Say to You just as so many other classrooms have and will continue to do. At the time, I provided an example to my students with a letter to my daughters in Reynolds’ style.
This morning, I began writing a letter to my students in the 7 o’clock hour to deliver to them before they head off for Thanksgiving Break tomorrow. I finished it during my conference in the 8 o’clock hour. I did not make my final edit to click save and hit print until the 7th period class was underway simply because I wanted to gaze upon each of my students’ faces to ensure I was speaking to each of them in my most recent version of Reynolds’ “Ten Things I Have Been Meaning to Say to You”-
If you are my student – by student I mean currently, though, former students aren’t excluded. Nor are my children. Or, people I am unaware are learning from me. But I’m primarily speaking to you, my current students. Here are 10 things I’ve been meaning to say to you:
1.I don’t enjoy monitoring your cell phone use. I honestly feel it is your parents/guardians’ role to facilitate the motivation (& repercussions) for you to put it down. But, looking up in hopes to see you growing as readers and writers overcoming struggles as an English II student to find you CHOOSING to be on your cell phone is disheartening. So, I act. I tell you to put it away, put it in your bag, get on task, blah, blah, blah. You should be more responsible and grateful for the life you live allowing you to attend public education. No doubt it is the modeled behavior you emulate. In short, it is up to you how you use your cell phone. The influence you sign yourself up for on a daily basis via your cell phone, however, has stolen your generations’ genuine character. You are bawdier. You are more audacious on your social media platforms. And, you are a totally different person when we chat one-on-one. I wish you would allow everyone to see the real you… especially on social media. If you are going to use the arenas every day, multiple times a day, be the inspiration most people need to see… especially young people… especially the people becoming adults with you. Trust me, you will need to be able to handle distractions to become a substantially successful people.
2. You are a strong people. You want to be heard. You want to be taken seriously. You want respect. In order for it all to be given to you, you have to provide a reason for it to be earned. Nothing is free in this world… You get out what you put in. Not what your parents put in. Not what your siblings put in. Not what anybody in your family puts in. And, you don’t acquire knowledge by osmosis… So, put in. Every. Single. Day.
3. There’s a difference between being pretentious and prosperous. Hang on to this as you grow.
4. Accountability is the catalyst to your earned successes. Be proactive. Avoid procrastination. Be aware of you. Focus less on others as they do not deserve the attentive observations as much as you deserve it of yourself… After all, you are walking around with you. Find someone to assist you in keeping yourself in check. A person willing to cheer you on as well as recommend change within you… is the truest friend you will ever find. Avoid enablers of your unattractive behavior and unreasonable projections… I have my sister. She is the most genuine supporter I have. She will tell me to my face when I am wrong, she will cheer on my accolades, and she stands next to me when I need a defense. She is never in front of nor behind me. When I feel I am failing at the many roles I have chosen to take on in this life, she reminds me I signed up for this because I love people and want to help the world be better. She reminds me I am maternal… in all I do.
5. Speaking of maternal… Thank yours. The one woman who inspires you to go for it. A simple, “thank you for ______” will carry her through every trying time she will face for more days than you can imagine. She is busting it. Always. From wake up til fallen asleep. And, often in her dreams.
6. Continue to advocate for yourself. Be sure you have earned your advocation. Never sign up for a handout. When you look in the mirror, you want to proudly know you earned every, single success. To advocate for you is to step up for you. Learn to do this for yourself. Adulthood is just a jump, hop, and a skip away. You will need to be ready
7. Be you. Not the big Insta fad, Tik-tok whim, SnapChattery filter, FaceBooked perfection, Pinterest icon, YouTube famer… just be YOU.
8. No… I am not knocking the technology you enjoy using to connect to the world and share fun conversations and awesome memories with your friends… I use it, too. I am simply (& firmly) stating- hang on to who you are… Why? Because time moves… trends dissipate… do you want to be a trend jumper? A stylish hopper? A generational skipper? Or, timeless. A classy, consistent, bold, respectable person able to move through all the changes of this world. Just ask yourself: When the clock ticks, will you know who you are?
9. Dream. Never stop dreaming. When someone says, “you can’t…”, turn their doubt into fuel. Then drive to your dream; no stops.
10. I (actually) love you. A lot. It may seem cheesy. But it is true. I know I always tell you I am proud of you. I know I get stern when you are pestering me to tell you how to be perfect, or you’re overly wild… To avoid a cliché ending… let me start this one over.
10. You may find the phrase, I love you, faulty for my stern countenance and high expectations. It is through my teacher love for you I push you to be better, hold you accountable, and tell you to try, try again. I had teachers who loved me, genuinely. They pushed me to see a potential me I was unable to… I just hope to plant a similar seed of faith in yourself which will grow hopefully during the years we share these halls… selfishly so I can see it bloom… BUT, the student in me knows it just may take years from now. Regardless, when life syncs for you, remember, this is what Mrs. A was talking about.
This Thanksgiving Break, thank your family and friends. Genuinely. Not via technology. Look them in the eye, hug them, and specifically thank them. If they are too far away, mail them a handwritten card or letter.
And, thank your teachers, coaches, directors, counselors, and principals… we are here because we love you.
Before you go, remember, I believe in you.
Jason Reynolds’ original Ten Things I Have Meaning to Say to You