Your Letter

Dear Terrence,

I read your letter and felt it really needed a reply: you touch on a lot of issues that got me thinking, gave me hope, and honestly caused me to worry a bit.

You wrote that you “feel like people criticize [you] because of [your] past,” something which “hurts [you] to even try to change.”I don’t know what you thought I might have known about your past, but I knew nothing. I’m fairly sure the other teachers on the team knew nothing about you, either. Yet we can all accurately guess about your past because of your present. I don’t mean to be offensive or blunt, but despite your desire to change, you still exhibit a lot of behaviors that draw negative attention to yourself. I don’t know about other teachers’ rooms, but I can describe some of the things in your behavior in my room that makes it pretty clear that you’ve had a rough past in school.

  1. You often blurt out things that you’re thinking, things that might not help the classroom atmosphere.
  2. You sometimes get up and move about the room for this or that reason without asking permission or seeming to notice that doing so would be an interruption.
  3. You put your head down when you get frustrated, and even when you’re not frustrated, you cover your face with your hands and completely disengage.
  4. When I correct you, you often quickly develop a negative, disrespectful attitude that comes out in your tone of voice and your body language.

You write that you want teachers to “just give [you] a chance and stop messing with [you],” but if a teacher is correcting these behaviors, she’s not “messing” with you. You must understand that some of your behaviors genuinely disrupt the class, and a teacher cannot continue teaching over disruption.

I do have some bad news, though: while no one is messing with you, you’ve made it clear what gets under your skin, and if a teacher wanted to mess with you, wanted to provoke you so that she could write you up, you’ve made it easy for that teacher (whom I hope you never meet) to do just that.

Fortunately, I have some good news, too: letters like yours make a teacher’s day. It gives us hope that perhaps we can help make a difference in students’ lives. I don’t know a single teacher—especially the teachers on our team—who won’t go out of his or her way to help a student who wants to change his/her behavior to do just that. However (and it’s a pretty big “however”), you have to show that you are really trying to make these changes. You have to show progress on a regular basis. Not big progress; not 180 degree changes overnight. But teachers need to see that you are serious about something like this. Otherwise, we’re left wondering if you’re just playing us. I’m sure you’re not, but it has been known to happen, and teachers tend to be a bit wary about that.

Here’s what I suggest you do if you really want to be a “changed man” as you so aptly called it. First, make sure you go to each teacher and say as much to him/her. Look the teacher in the eye; make sure your facial expression is pleasant; be sure not to let yourself be distracted by anything other students might be doing; then say what you said in the letter. Second, make your strongest effort to change right then. Show the teacher you mean business. Show the teacher that you are not just talking the talk but you’re trying to walk the walk. Third, when you slip up (and you will: you’re trying to change some habits that you’ve had for a long time, I suspect), apologize. Sincerely. But not right then! If you do, the teacher is likely to think you’re just trying to disrupt further. Just smile as best you can and comply. After class, you can go to the teacher and say, “I really messed up. I appreciate your patience with me. I’ll do better next time.” Finally, make sure all your friends know what you’re up to. If you’re trying to be Mr. Thug with them but Mr. Nice Guy with your teachers, you’ll get those roles mixed up and cause yourself more trouble. Be a leader: tell your friends, “Hey, I’m sick of hating school, sick of dreading school, sick of feeling like I’m wasting time. I’m going to make some changes in how I act, how I think, how I see myself and the world.” Be a leader: show other kids how to do it. They’ll follow your example, because everyone loves to see a “troubled-kid-straightens-everything-out” story. We love it, all of us.

Understand that I’ll do everything in my power to help you. I have some tricks I can teach you about making a good impression, keeping your impulses in check, and having a positive affect. (If you don’t know what that means, ask me: I’ll gladly explain.) But as I said earlier, I and all the other teachers have to see change immediately. Not enormous change, but change. Effort.

Best of luck,
Your Teacher


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s