Although I have left my job as a teacher, I think about my students and their families regularly. I definitely miss the joy those kids brought to my life. (At the same time, I really really really love how…hmmm, what is this peculiar feeling? Oh! Relaxed! Rested. Yes, I really love how relaxed and rested I feel.)
Hands down, the absolute best part of the career for me was connecting with the students and forming significant bonds. I grew to love all of them (95%), and there are a few who I absolutely wish I could adopt. I also observe and see that, while many of them have solid parents whose values are in place and are clearly nailing the parent thing, there are others who have fallen into the trap of forgetting what really matters and what is healthiest to instill in children. I don’t know if it’s an American thing or universally typical but then compounded with this generation of helicopter parents or a private school/privileged/entitled issue, but I do know that it’s there. So if I could send out a letter to the families and hold nothing back, it would go a little something like this:
(NOTE: Much of this is in jest. Come on.)
This trimester has been pretty chill. We read a book, we learned some cool words, we wrote some responses and stories. Yes, we did some grammar, because I had a gun held to my head, but allow me to go on a rant for a moment: Learning grammar as an isolated subject is stupid and won’t make your children better at writing. You know what makes someone better at writing? Writing. And re-writing. And also getting older. And reading a lot. Most great writers are not taught to be great writers. They just are. It wasn’t because someone taught them about gerunds and participles. That right there reduces writing to a menial task of memorization and logic, but it is not: writing is an art form, and an artist improves through the practice of the craft. Van Gogh wasn’t a great painter because he knew the chemical compounds of his oils. He had heart and soul and an understanding of dimension and space and color, and he threw all that shit to the wall and noticed what stuck. (Did you know that yours truly failed a bunch of grammar exams in high school, but always crushed it on essays and stories? I still can’t tell you what certain clauses mean, and I never will, but check me out right now with all my tone and wit and voice.) If you’re concerned, make your kids read a book a week and keep a journal, and I promise you, they’ll be alright. And if they have no desire to pursue any sort of writing as a career, then as long as they can compose an email, they’ll be alright, too. So, yes. We had fun with some projects. Greek mythology and all that.
On a more serious note, dear parents, I have to address some of my core philosophical beliefs. Many of you are a burden to your children and are only stressing them out and making their lives harder (or else you are infantilizing them and turning them into spoiled, entitled brats who will not be prepared for the real world, but I’ll save that for another time.) It’s what they’ve shared with me, in so many words, and it’s what I have seen. I know it’s not always intentional or “your fault.” But it is there.
You do understand that they are eleven and twelve years old, yes? That straight A’s don’t matter, yes? That instilling in them the belief that their worth and abilities are measured by some fabricated system of numbers and letters is ludicrous, yes? It won’t really matter where they go to high school or college. They could go to Harvard or Stanford and still get strung out on heroin, hit their spouses, struggle with depression and hate themselves. You can’t avoid that with a sexy GPA. It’s fine to plan for the future in small doses, but you’re overdoing it. They need you to listen and love and teach them some deeper shit. That is all. Stop glorifying busyness and stress and jam-packed schedules. Because the truth is, we are spiritual beings having human experiences, and the things we value and think are important are just impermanent, future-based illusions that prevent us from enjoying the present moment. It’s how we’ve been programmed. But the great news is that we can de-program ourselves. No, I am not high right now. I don’t get high anymore.
Try this instead, and I will do the same: teach your kids to love themselves unconditionally, to seek a depth and range of truth and knowledge, and to have integrity. In fact, love yourselves unconditionally, learn some cool shit, have solid values, and then go be a role model. Teach them to watch their thinking and understand how crazy it is. Explain that they are conditioned to have negative thoughts of fear and scarcity because it’s leftover garbage from when they were apes and that there is actually quite nothing to fear. Help them understand that it’s just the brain doing its business: crapping out a bunch of nonsense and lies in circles and re-runs. Teach them that they are pretty powerless over controlling their lives, especially with their brains, and that there is nothing in need of their control. Let them know the truth: life is way more fun when we let go and trust that it’s all going to work out. What else will it do? Our hands all over things just makes it harder. It’s still important to put forth effort and make something, but chill out on the intensity. Teach them that they’re taken care of no matter what, whether by a god or a star or an imaginary creature or Elsa from Frozen or by their own shiny little souls. It’s a much more fun way to live. Stress the importance of learning for learning’s sake, not to get some grade. We should learn because it is important and helps us grow, not because it makes our report cards look all nice. Teach them to be accountable because it will serve them out there in the real world and will lower their asshole rating. They’re not going to school and turning homework in to get an A – they’re doing it because they are practicing accountability and showing up. Teach them good values and ethics and morals, but not in the Santa Claus way – they’ll just develop split personality and unnecessary guilt if they get caught up in trying to be too good. And chill on the moral relativism – yes, we are all one, but kids still need to learn responsibility and the reality of good and evil. They can figure the subtleties out as they grow. Help them to combine tolerance and discernment, as necessary.
Teach them to accept all of their feelings, positive and negative. Teach them that it’s normal to get angry, sad, frustrated, ashamed, jealous, unsure, confused, or scared. Teach them that it is so super duper regular, that all humans feel that way, and give them healthy tools to move through the pain around those feelings. Let them cry for as long as they need. Give them space. Don’t instill shame. Shame is toxic and leads to every form of self-destruction and addiction. And for goodness sakes, deal with your own shit. Don’t hand it over to them.
Expose them to art. Music. Literature. Poetry. Movies. Comedy. Dance. Meditation. Prayer. Long walks. Solitude. Quiet. Independence. Dogs. Love of others. Don’t teach them that happiness exists in money or status or appearance or good grades. It doesn’t. It’s nice and all, but come on. You know this. Stop teaching that it’s bad to be alone or that another person will make or break their capacity to feel joy. Teach them that joy is within. “Heaven” is within. Everything is within.
Look, if I had my way, I wouldn’t give any grades. Or, I would, but like, don’t freak out so much about them. I’d leave a lot more time for meditating/chilling/dancing, and I’d teach everyone the importance of stand-up comedy. I’d read great books, show great films, play great music, allow hours to write. Watch trippy documentaries on space and the universe and the history of France. I would teach a whole bunch of content – the history and art and literature of the world! – but I’d take the sting out of it. I’d make it fun. Isn’t this shit interesting? Sit and talk. Sit and listen. That’s why I love “teaching.” Not because I get to give vocabulary quizzes and wear pencil skirts, but because I get to connect and explore with sweet creatures who want to laugh and wonder and feel loved simply because they exist. They should really call the job “hanging outing with kids-ing” instead of teaching. What do I have to teach? I’m just a kid playing adult dress up, like the rest of us. But I like having a grand ol’ time, I do!
So yeah, good job on conceiving and birthing a child into this world. I’m glad I got to meet her. I’m glad he was in my class. Even if he wasn’t my favorite, I won’t forget him. Even if she caused me sleepless nights, I forgive her. I was a sixth grader once, too. And I think what I really needed were parents who understood and teachers who were honest and kind and loving.
Alright, that’s enough out of me, parents. I’ve got a walk to take and some real writing to do. Good job on the trimester. Please, if at all possible, never email me. Unless you want to talk about the universe, alcoholism, or Game of Thrones, save those anxious rants about the homework for your higher power. It’ll all work out!