To My New Students In The Fall Of 2020

To My New Students In The Fall Of 2020,

Hi. Welcome. I am so very glad that you are here.

We have certainly all lived through quite a lot this summer.  So many things have been swirling around us.  A global pandemic. Cries for justice and equity and Black Lives Matter. Debates on what our very school year should look like.

You have probably taken in a whole lot of things and you are carrying those things into this school year and into our learning space and those things are probably feeling really heavy.  And so today, I want us to begin to build a space we can collectively hold the weight of all of the things that we are carrying and find some relief in carrying those things now together. As a community. And so I want to say to you again, “Hi. Welcome. I am so very glad that you are here.”

And before we get started, I want to tell you a few things.

First of all, I want you to know that I, too, am walking into this school year carrying the weight of a lot of the things the world has thrown at us over these past few months. This summer, I have found myself time and time again disappointed and angry with many of the adults around me and the decisions that they have been making. I have been angry because a lot of times it has felt as if those decisions that were being made were based on the needs of only those with the most power and privilege and that those decisions have not always led to the best conditions for all of our children to live and learn in. And that makes me angry. And so I have pushed back and I have questioned and I have raised my voice because that is what I would want you to do. And while some might say that this makes me unprofessional, I believe that fighting for the very best conditions for all our children to live and learn in is the very definition of what it should mean to be a teacher.

So, now, I want to tell you that it is okay to be angry.  It is okay to be sad. It is okay to be scared. It is okay to carry all of those things with you into this school year. You might hear some adults around you tell you that you need to be positive.  That you need to have a good attitude.  I have heard those things too. And, yes, those things can be important. But those things are not everything. And if those things come at the cost of you feeling invalidated for being upset, then those things are not what you need to hear. Adults sometimes tell you to be positive, because they are uncomfortable with your discomfort. Because they love you so much and they want you to be happy and they want you to feel good, so they sometimes forget to let you feel the pain that makes so much sense in this moment.

But the truth is that just like me, you might be carrying some of the anger and sadness and disappointment of this summer into this school year and I want you to know that it is okay. There is space for all of that here.  There is space for us to feel those things and those things can actually serve as the strong foundation on which we can build a successful community. Because building community happens when we are allowed to be honest about who we are and what we are feeling. When we feel like our emotions are valid simply because they are our honest responses to what we are living through. When we feel as if we are being heard and being seen for exactly who we are and not the versions of us that would make others feel more comfortable. When we are able to be our full and authentic selves, that is when we will find the strength that we need to make it through this moment. That is when we will begin to figure out who we are as a community. That is what I want for us this year.  And that starts today.

And while there are already people writing books on how to be a good teacher in this moment, I want to be really honest with you. I have no idea how exactly to do this all. I have nothing fully figured out yet.  I do not yet know how best to teach you because I have not even gotten to know you yet.

But I can tell you this.  We are going to figure this out together. No matter what we are carrying into this school year, I can tell you that I am going to find a way to get to know you all, to love you all and to meet you all exactly where you are, wherever that might be, and we will move forward together no matter what format our school year will take.  I might not know exactly how we will do that yet, but I can promise you that it will happen. Because that is what it means to me to be a teacher.  That is what it has always meant.

So while I will continue to be angry when I see decision makers ignoring the voices of entire groups of people, I will also be loving each and every one of you and working alongside of you to move us forward together as a community. There is space for both. And I want you to see that and know that and understand that part of loving a place is pushing for that place to be better and to do better. And that we can feel our anger and disappointment and sadness and still have space to feel all the other things too.

Because this year, we will also feel joy. We will feel the joy that comes along with creating something new together. We will feel the joy that comes along with sharing our stories and hearing the stories that other people have to tell. We will feel the joy that comes along with learning new things and understanding the world around us and finding our own ways to work to make that world a better place.

So as we start to walk together into this uncertain school year, I am going to say it just one more time so that it is absolutely clear.

Hi. Welcome. I am so glad that you are here.

Now, let’s get started.






8 thoughts on “To My New Students In The Fall Of 2020

  1. “And that we can feel our anger and disappointment and sadness and still have space to feel all the other things too.”


    A close friend of mine is a yoga teacher. This past week she told me the message in all of her classes was how the “good vibes only” mantra is BS and that it is okay for her yoga students to show up to the mat with whatever they might be carrying.

    I am always grateful for your messages—for the way the affirm my thinking and for the way they push me to be better.

  2. I hope it’s ok for me to steal and translate (and modify it a little) this. I teach 3rd grade and I think my students need to hear/read something like this. Let me know if you have any problem with that.

  3. Thank you for sharing this universal collection of feelings we all are carrying. Thank you thank you thank you. I needed to read this and cry a little right now.

  4. Thank you, Jess. I’m sitting in my kitchen reading your words. I need to blow my nose and my eyes are leaking. Reading and feeling your words. Allowing myself to feel those hard feelings – the doubt, fear, the exhaustion of carrying those feelings all summer. Even in my super privileged position of being in a country where the pandemic is largely under control and national leadership has been prudent, I am still wrestling with so much anger and sadness at flagrant injustices I cannot turn away from.
    How important to have those feelings validated. To know the relief that I’m not alone. You’ve addressed your students and all of us who return to teaching and learning in the midst of global uncertainty and upheaval. Thank you for allowing me to show up here and be as vulnerable as I actually feel. I needed that desperately and didn’t realize how urgently until now.
    Sending love and tenderness to you and yours as you create another phenomenal learning community,

  5. Hi there. I’m so with you in all of these thoughts, feelings, actions, and sentiments. I borrowed your ideas and wrote a letter too. (Is that okay?) I gave you credit at the end of it. I also made a video of my cat reading it (through one of those silly apps). I’m so grateful for you putting to words what so many of us feel. Let me know if this is not okay.

  6. Thank you for so eloquently articulating what so many of us are feeling at this time. I hope it’s ok to borrow some of this letter/ your words in my syllabus. I have given you full credit and referred my students to your original letter here. Again, thank you.

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