This year, through a confluence of unexpected but welcome events, I was able to teach an "alternate route" teacher preparatory program through the Essex County Provisional Teacher Training Program (ECPTTP) in Montclair, New Jersey. The following is a (slightly modified) copy of my parting letter to my adult students upon their completion of the new EdTPA national requirements and graduation from the program. These students are all in the classroom teaching already, but this program's completion ensures the receipt of their standard teaching certificate.
In the words of the late Jerry Garcia, "What a long, strange trip it's been."
I am so proud of you all for what you have accomplished over the last two years. As I've mentioned a few times before, taking on this position was, and still is, a daunting task. You welcomed me with grace and kindness, and I am so grateful for that.
In my day job as a high school English teacher, this time of year reminds me of how often, and how much, we focus on the least important parts of our students' lives and learning. These final few days of the school year, a time that should be spent connecting with our students, is far too often bogged down with Sisyphean box-checking, scolding demands for missing assignments, and the steady hum of directionless anxiety. My simple request of you, as you go into these last few days of the school year, is to remember that more than the equations, vocabulary, formulas, and historic dates, your students will remember the relationships they formed with you. Make those relationships great.
It would be beyond cliched to say that your students are lucky to have you, but they are. There are many, many reasons not to go into education, and you have most likely been confronted by several of them, but there is always, will always be one big reason to teach: you get to help children become themselves. That is a heavy responsibility, but one at which I know you will succeed.
As you are undoubtedly sick of hearing me say, teaching is not a job, or a career, or a gig, but a practice, and like any practice, it demands reflection, curiosity, and humility.
You will mess up. Frequently. Sometimes so badly that you don't think you'll be able to show up the next day.
Learn from these mistakes; be humble enough to accept that you don't know everything and confident enough to know you can get better. Share your failures with your students so they know that all people, even and especially those they respect the most, mess up all the time. That is a great gift you get to share with those that need it the most.
Above all else, I ask you to retain the sense of childish wonder that your best teachers brought out of you. I often tell my students that people want to be around interesting people, and the only way to be interesting is to be interested. I encourage you to always remain interested, not just in your subject, but, to paraphrase the writer James Herriot, in "all things great and small," especially those things that scare, confuse, or intimidate you.
While reading Macbeth with my students this year, I was struck by this seemingly insignificant line spoken by Duncan, the King of Scotland, to his countryman Macbeth:
"I have begun to plant thee, and will labor to make thee full of growing."
This, in closing, is what we are tasked with: nurturing our students, (even and especially those prejudged as "bad seeds") to help them grow fully.
It's a daunting, complicated task, for certain.
It's also a lot of fun.
You are ready. Go do great things.
Matt Morone (@MrMorone) is a high school English teacher, NCTE/CEL Member-at-Large & NJ state liaison, #CELchat organizer, faculty advisor to Outside/In literary magazine, 2016 Princeton Distinguished Secondary Teacher of the Year, constant reader, novice blogger, avid music fan, and sandwich aficionado.
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