Teacher Finalist 2017-2018: Jill Andrews - A Letter to the Class of 2019

It’s the first day - your final first day - the first day of the final chapter of your public education. Twelve years ago, your moms and dads snapped pictures of you entering your elementary schools as they wiped tears from their cheeks. You were dressed in your new shoes, new shorts, and new shirts, while donning your new backpacks and lunch pails, selected especially for kindergarten for you by Mom and Dad. Today,  you probably selected your own first-day wardrobe without much help, but I promise you  - they were still wiping tears from their cheeks this morning, knowing that this is it - this is your last first day, the day they have both anticipated and feared for the last 12 years, years full of hopes and dreams and wishes and goals.

Just as your parents have held these hopes and dreams and wishes and goals for you, so do I, your senior English teacher.

I hope to help you find your voice through language and literature.

I dream of sending you into the world smarter and wiser and more confident than you are today.

I wish for you to take the time to enjoy each moment of this year; don’t rush into adulthood. Find joy in the little things. Appreciate the nice moments this year will offer you.
I want to work with you this year to help you set, strive toward, and realize your goals, whatever those goals may be.

What you may not realize as you sit in your seat, wondering if your teacher will be kind or strict or witty or dull, is that I am just as nervous and terrified and anxious as you are. I’ve suffered the back-to-school nightmares of arriving 30 minutes late in my underwear as 1,273 teenagers point and giggle and share my image on Snapchat and Twitter. I worry that I won’t be enough or do enough for you. I  fear that I won’t reach the shy student in the back or the angry student with the leave-me-alone posture or the hungry student who is more worried about food and paying bills. I lose sleep, wondering if I can be relevant, if I can engage you, if I can share something with you that you will carry into your life beyond high school.

And teachers, whether this is your FIRST first day, your 32nd first day, or your last first day, my hopes and dreams and wishes for you are the same as those for my seniors:

Find your voice this year. Use it.

Try to make yourself smarter, wiser, and more confident - pledge to learn something new each day. Challenge yourself and your students to leave this year better than you found it.

Set a goal. Or two. Strive for them, work for them, and celebrate when you achieve them. And if you don’t? Reflect on what you learned, and give it another try.

Kurt Vonnegut, whom I often quote, offers this advice, and I hope my colleagues and students will heed these words on the first school day of 2018: I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
While this day and this year will likely bring tears (the good kind and the bad kind), there will also be smiles and laughter, and I hope these nice moments will provide the fuel you need to conquer another school year.

Jill Andrews

English Teacher,
Claremore High School
Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year Finalist, 2017-2018

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Last updated on August 20, 2018