• D.L. Williams

An Open Letter to My Students

I'm a rookie 7th-grade science teacher in New Mexico. Last week Governor Lujan-Grisham made the prudent decision that all schools in this state will be closed for the rest of the school year due to the coronavirus. New Mexico is a poor state, and I work at a Title I school where the majority of students need and receive breakfast and lunch at school. Fortunately, programs such as meals, counseling, and medical care will continue, but I will not see these kids who've come to mean so much to me until September at the earliest.

We had almost daily Q&A in my classes about the spreading virus before the closure. The kids were worried, so I learned as much as I could in preparation for the questions I knew would come. I imagine many of them are still anxious, so I decided to write them a letter (sent by email). You'll note I spend little time here talking about the actual virus, and more about my expectations of them as human beings. Perhaps that's more important than one more report on how to wash your hands or distance ourselves from others. Because "someday" will be here, and how we respond to our new world will come to define us. Everything I say to these kids goes the same for you, dear readers. Be brave and well, and plan for an extraordinary future. It seems a long way off right now, but I promise it's on the way.

Dear Students: I’d considered a speech for the end of this semester. I’d planned to tell you this year has been important to me. I came to you a rookie teacher, and if there was a mistake to be made, I probably made it. Sorry about that. I'll keep working at it.

I was good at what I did in my last career. One of the reasons for that was because I always took my oath to protect and serve seriously. The cops who remember that tend to have long and honorable careers. The one’s who forget tend to get fired, arrested, highlighted on the evening news, and sued in federal court.

Whatever success I had in reaching you this year came from the continued belief that I was there to protect and serve you. I’d thought about the jump from public safety to teaching for a while, finally coming to believe that maybe I could participate in preventing some of the senseless waste and violence I’d seen over the previous thirty years. I can teach you science, but I believe it’s more important for me to partner with your parents to show you how to be good, productive men and women who live rewarding and honorable lives. It is my sincere hope I’ve made some small difference in your life, and I genuinely want each of you to pursue your dreams and know joy.

Many of you have heard me say this before: Great things only happen when you get uncomfortable. So go get dirty, take a few risks, get sweaty and out of breath, and don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do with your life. You can do whatever you set your course to do, and all it takes is courage, an unwavering commitment, and diligent work to see it happen.

Last thing: it’s highly likely you’re driving your parents crazy right now. Remember that you’re changing physically and emotionally now more than at any other time in your life with the exception of the first year after your birth. Those changes can come out as moodiness, laziness (you’re tired because your brain wiring and your body is growing faster than ever), and defiance. It's not all your fault if things are tense in your home right now, but you hold the power to make positive changes.

If your guardians are those few who are cruel or dangerous, you need to find a way to let me or someone know so we can help you (my email here). Otherwise, your parents are probably just like all the other’s out there, doing their best to put food on the table, keep you safe in a dangerous world, pay the mortgage, put up with a cranky boss, and somehow keep you and your siblings entertained and engaged during this age of social distancing. Maybe give them a break. Smile now and then, do a chore or two without being asked, never say, "whatever" accompanied with an eye roll. A hug wouldn’t hurt, if you think you've got it in you. It'll make you feel better, and your folks will be so giddy they might start being nice right back at you.

This lecture will have to do you until September. I'll be thinking about you. Now go be safe…just not too safe. Mr. Williams