Dana Jones is a former teacher from Indiana. This letter was originally posted on Facebook as the letter that said what she really wanted to say to her students on her last day of teaching. It is published in its entirety with her permission.
Dear Students (both past and present),
Let me start off by saying, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry that I am leaving this battle. I’m sorry that after 9 years I have been beaten down to the point where I feel like I can no longer make a difference. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that every single day I walked through that classroom door I made a difference. But it wasn’t the difference that the politicians and others, who have very little to no clue, wanted me to make. I’m sorry that I started feeling like I was failing you every single day and I could no longer do that to you, or myself.
I’m sorry that I can’t allow myself to look at you and just see a test score, and I’m sorry that over the last couple of years I fell into that trap at times. I started viewing you as a score and a letter more times than I ever should have. I’m sorry that I couldn’t always get those scores and letters up to the level that some person sitting behind a desk very far removed from you and your life, decided you should be. I’m sorry that I got frustrated when you didn’t reach the “projected score” that was assigned to you by a computer program. The problem is that computer didn’t know that your dad just got sent out of state again the day before and you were up crying the previous night because you missed him. The computer didn’t see that you had to move out of your house for the 3rd time this year the previous week and you were currently living with a family member and not sure when, or if, you would ever have your own home again. All that computer saw was that you didn’t hit your “projected score” by 3 points and so therefore we should label you as an “at-risk student” and color code all your scores in bright red.
I’m sorry that I didn’t listen more closely to all your stories you wanted to tell me because I was too busy trying to make sure we hit everything that was written out on my two page lesson plan I had written the night before for a 15 minute mini-lesson. I’m sorry I got stressed that someone would walk into the room and see me listen to you tell me all about your new shoes that you had been trying to show me since you walked in the door (but I was too busy trying to take attendance, lunch count, organize morning work, check and sign papers that had been brought back, help 3 kids understand the concept that was taught yesterday, all while looking at the random bumps that had popped up on another students arm and trying to determine if they needed to be sent down to the nurse) instead of teaching an engaging lesson complete with a hook, higher order thinking, and high level questioning that I only half listened and mumbled a , “That’s great!” before moving back into the lesson. I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to really listen to what you were telling me, because that story was probably about way more than new shoes.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t make every lesson as exciting as our Iditarod unit. The excitement on your faces every single day during that unit was what kept me going the past few weeks. All of the “You won’t believe what I learned last night when I was learning about this at home!” and “Did you know…!” are what made me throw aside those lesson plans for 30 minutes every day and not care who walked in to see that you were highly engaged in your learning, working with peers, and learning how to do your own research on a topic as well as problem solve, but not really intentionally hitting any of the standards (although I could easily argue that we were unintentionally hitting MANY of the standards at once.) I’m sorry that for those 30 minutes every day I didn’t care that there wasn’t an objective written on the board complete with an I Can statement because the only I Can statement that would have been appropriate would have been, “I Can learn and enjoy my learning!” (and I was never really sure how to write that out on a lesson plan template effectively.)
I’m sorry that I had to give you all of those assessments all the time. I saw your shoulders sag each time I handed one out. I saw the sparkle go out of your eyes. I heard the sighs. I also saw the way you put everything you had into those assessments. I saw the way you truly tried to make not only myself, but yourself proud. I saw the smile on your face when you saw your perfect score and I saw the crumpled up paper when you didn’t score what you were hoping. I so badly wanted to crumple up those assessments myself before I even handed them to you. I was always told they were to help me gauge my future instruction, but the truth is, I could almost always guess what you would score even before you took the assessment. I didn’t need that assessment to tell me what I already knew, but I was required to give them to you.
I’m sorry that there isn’t a test to see how you’ve grown as a person during the time I spent with you. Because man we would have knocked that test out of the park! I’m sorry that very few people got to witness you as the extremely angry child that walked in my room and left as one of the classroom leaders and role models. I’m sorry that others couldn’t see the transformation of you resorting to physical violence when someone called you a name one year, and the next year saying, “Back then I didn’t know any other way to deal with a situation, but now I do because you taught me how.” I still cry as I think about that moment, just as I cried in front of you that day when you said that. That day I didn’t feel like a failure. I’m sorry that I “drove you crazy!” (As you told me literally every day for about 6 straight months.) But I’m not sorry that I will forever have a screen shot in my memory of your Facebook status when it was time for us to no longer be together, (that I wasn’t supposed to see, but you know I stalk all of you as if you were my own kids to make sure you are making good decisions in life…) “I’m going to miss Mrs. Jones so much. She was really cool and never gave up on me.” I’m sorry that emotional and social growth isn’t assessed.
I’m sorry that we went off on tangents often in our class about the topics you really wanted to learn about such as the Civil Rights, distant planets, and the branches of government. I’m sorry that I spent one whole guided reading lesson teaching you about how government works and how the president can’t just deport all the Hispanics, because he wants to, so that you wouldn’t be worried and not able to sleep anymore at night for fear of being sent out of the country one day. I just felt that your peace of mind was much more important than whatever lesson was originally planned for that day. (We always had tomorrow.)
I’m sorry that I’m not going to be around to see you grow into the amazing young men and women you are destined to become. Not because you achieved Pass or Pass+ status on a test, but because you showed me daily the kindness inside your souls. I saw you as you went over to the student that was struggling and sat down next to them to help them with the math problem. I saw you as you wrote the apology note to the other student when you accidently hurt their feelings. I saw you spend your own money on a classmate who really wanted a book from the book order but didn’t have their own money to buy it. I saw you learn all these life skills that you will never be tested on through the state, but you will be in life one day. I know you are going to pass that test that life is going to throw at you one day because I saw you pass it every day in our classroom. I’m not sorry that I feel that test is way more important than all the standardized tests.
I’m sorry that this system feels more like it is set up to help you fail than succeed. But always remember that you can and will be successful if you choose to be. Never let a test score define you. Never let a color-code determine what you will do with your life. (I’ve known many “green” people who have made nothing of themselves, and many more “red” who have achieved beyond anyone’s wildest dreams for them.) Always remember that you are in charge of your future. Knowledge is important, but knowledge along with good character is powerful. Be powerful. I’m sorry that I won’t be there to guide you on that path anymore but I know that one day I will hear about your incredible achievements and hope that maybe I played even a small role in shaping you. And for that I will never be sorry.
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