Dear Ms. W . . .

This Sunday, I cleaned out the part of the garage dedicated to the boxes full of my past that Dad won’t stop keeps bringing up when he and Mom visit, because I simply couldn’t ignore them anymore—not out of nostalgia, but because starting tomorrow morning, I’m going to be schlepping both kids to the same school,* and I would prefer that the back driver’s side door of my car swing open more than five inches so loading children and their stuff into the back seat is a slightly less complicated logistical ballet every morning.

So I went through eight boxes or so of children’s books and textbooks, folders, notebooks, Glamour Shots™ , computer media so old I’d have to beg the Smithsonian to retrieve the data, photos and negatives, old band uniforms, and all kinds of etcetera, while the kids drew chalk pictures on the driveway and Watson assembled piles of stuff into three categories—keep, donate, pitch**—and fished things out of the recycling bin with the barbecue tongs whenever I changed my mind—or temporarily lost it, tomato, tomahto.

In among the tons of future blog fodder, I discovered a stack of letters written to me by the junior high English students I taught for my practicum over twenty years ago—an experience which gave me an undying respect for those intrepid educators who have the talents, skill, and calling to dedicate themselves to guiding young minds in a classroom setting  . . . and the unshakeable suspicion that I was not one of them.

My  mentor, who was under the impression that I was still wavering between teaching junior high and high school,*** gave a final assignment to the students to write down their opinions about that and to give me any teaching advice they thought I might need.

And they did.

Boy, did they.


Dear Ms. W^ . . .

I think what makes a good junior high school teacher is responsibility and caring for your students.  And a lot of courage to get through these halls at rush hour.

To be a school teacher take’s a lot of work.  You have to come in which you are tired miserable.  When you want hit a kid or just sit and scream at him you cant.  When you had a bad day and you want to take it out on your last period class you cant.  But when these kid’s grow up to be real important you can say you helped them get there.

To be a good teacher you need to get the kids to like you.  Some ways you can get kids to like you is to let them chew gum.

Listen to their answers and consider it.  You shouldn’t just count it wrong if it isn’t like the textbook says.

If you decide to teach Jr. High you will have a few surprises.  First we are much more mature than kids in the elementary level.  Second we have a lot more problems.  That means grades, family, and our sex lives.  That might be fun to help with.

I think it takes a lot of things to be a very good teacher like not giving a lot of home work and not being so stricked.

To teach any grade level it takes patients and dedication, espesialy patients.

I think the qualities of a good teacher are that she is funny, has a good personality, is nice, don’t give you a hard time but pushes you enough to do your best and get your work done.

You should be a junior high school teacher.  Because high school students are too wild I think.

I think you should teach  jr. high school so you don’t have to put up with those high school kids.

It would probally be harder to work with the high school people cause they are probally meaner, especially if you meet my sister who is in 10th grade.

It would be hard to do lot’s of things here the kids don’t listen much here.

I am going to tell you what it takes to be a junior high teacher.  One thing it takes is a sense of humor.

I think it takes having a good sinse of humor, and know what you are talking about.

I think that you should develop a creative way of teacing and make learning fun.  You don’t want the kids to doze off.


Solid advice, I think, even if I chose another path.  Thanks, guys—hope I didn’t scar you for life.

And I’d really like to thank those of you who are gearing up for—or have already started—a new year of teaching kids just as weird, wise, and wonderful as these.

Including mine.


*Expect a weepy post about my Last Baby entering Kindergarten as soon as I have images of her doing so.

**Don’t yell at me—some of these had been soaked and dried and bent and spidered and spindled and moused, and others were half- eaten by their own acidity.  If they were still in print, I threw ’em out rather than infect anyone.  And it still wasn’t an easy decision.

*** Instead of wavering between graduate school and “You want fries with that?”

^I didn’t have to change my monogram when I married, which would have been more convenient if I moved in the sort of social circles where monograms are de rigueur, instead of the surname-on-laundry tag-with Sharpie circles to which I am more accustomed.  As it was, I thought I’d never stop sticking stray parts of my maiden name into my married one . . .

12 thoughts on “Dear Ms. W . . .

  1. Westie? Weltson?

    I realized I wasn’t destined to be a classroom teacher, either, although it was initially fear that kept me out. I have regretted it at times. I wonder what it would have been like to have a bunch of hormone bags in front of me (I *like* junior high kids – they’re never the same person twice), maybe making some of them feel better about themselves and their futures.

    • Welsson, usually. 🙂

      I think you would have made a fantastic school counselor, Lisa—one of the kind that students actually want to see and talk to.

  2. I was a junior high science teacher. I think I maintained some semblance of decorum by tell them that they would do the experiments themselves, but if they deviated at any time from the instructions they could be blasted into eternity. I would be standing by the door so that I would escape into safety should anything go wrong. Poor naive souls, they believed me.

    And, my dear, if you think your current safari into yesterdays junk was a trial, just wait. If I don’t get around to cleaning up the vast collection of useless crap that has accumulated behind every closet door in this house before I enter into the nearer presence of our Lord, you will face a task that will make the current one seem like a pleasure. (Example, we still have your mother’s girl scout uniform!)

    • My high school physics teacher used to wheel the Van de Graaff generator in front of the door so the students who were late to class couldn’t sneak in.

      Yeah, the house scares me a little—but I’ve been practicing with archive donations for the last decade and a half, so maybe there’s hope. If all else fails, I can always pull an Augean Stables maneuver with the lake and a couple of hoses . . .

  3. Glad I read your blogs to find out what my family thinks of my “treasures”. The Girl Scout uniform was your Grandmother”s idea, but you will have to deal with the cook books. Every time I stuff something in the closet I say “Mother’s revenge”.
    Love you.

    • I love your treasures, Mom. But if I’m responsible for the cookbooks, I’ll have to take the kitchen bookcases, too.

      (your revenge was complete the first time I found Janie reading on the potty instead of getting dressed for school)

  4. Fantastic post. I’m glad you dug into your past. It’s fun to go home and dig through the things your parents keep threatening you about coming to get, or else. And finding the letters from your students is pretty awesome. They do have sound advice. But I what I think is so neat is they sound just like my students, past and present. Apparently, students never change. Haha.

    Teaching may not have been for you, but the experience you got from it seems more than worth it. You’re one of the parents who understands. I love that. Thank you. Totally reblogging this.

  5. My degree is actually in communication education. At one time in my life, I actually thought I wanted to teach junior high and high school kids English, journalism, theater, speech and debate–while using my free time to write. Apparently, I was too stricked–or stricken–to further pursue that and went into writing full-time instead.

    I think we both took the easier way out.

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