An Open Letter To My Students: I'm Sorry For Failing You

An Open Letter To My Students: I’m Sorry For Failing You

Dear Students,

This is only my second year as a teacher and although I was much more successful than last year, I still failed you.

Sure, I taught you every single rhetorical device and strategy you need to know to write a convincing rhetorical analysis. But I failed to teach you the strategies you’ll need to maneuver through a tough day.

And yes, I guided you on how to evaluate sources and a speaker’s argument so that you would never fall for fallacious arguments. But I failed to guide you in evaluating your own self-worth.

Finally, I quizzed you relentlessly on hundreds of vocabulary terms. But I failed to teach you the words to build up your self-esteem when you feel your world is crashing down on you.

This is your junior year. The year where you should be perfecting your driving and parking skills. Not driving home every night and burying yourselves in mounds of homework assignments.

This is your second final year of high school. You should be out there making memories with old and new friends. Hooking up and breaking up. Traveling the world. Partying and regretting your decisions the morning after.

Instead, every Friday you were forced to engage in professional discourse surrounding adult matters. Not even old enough to join in those conversations and yet, every time you said it better than any adult ever could.

Every Saturday, you masterfully fit all of your thoughts on mass shootings, sexual assault, hate crimes, illegal immigration and Nike ads into a mere 250 characters in our weekly Twitter discussions.

Every Wednesday, you bravely stood in front of your peers as you presented in under 2 minutes your reactions and thoughts on what’s happening in the world around you- the one you can’t fully live in because we teachers fill your days and minds with pointless information we expect you to memorize then mindlessly regurgitate back to us on one 3 hour and 15 minute exam that’ll determine whether or not you’re worthy of earning college credit for the course.

We, as a system of education, have failed you. And I am deeply sorry.

I am sorry for being apart of a system that entraps you in the confines of a four-wall brick building, then expects you to thrive and flourish into a well-rounded individual.

I am sorry for being a part of a system that shoves four core subjects down your throat every year for 12 years and then is flabbergasted when you have no idea what you want to do with your life after high school.

I am sorry for being a part of a system that constantly tells you that you can accomplish anything in life and that dreams do come true if you work hard, then determines your entire success on one singular test score.

But I am most deeply sorry for being apart of a system that continuously breaks down and tears apart your self-esteem. A system that insistently reminds you that you are not good enough. Not good enough for a sports team. Not good enough for an honors or AP class. Not good enough for an A+. Not good enough to be recognized once a quarter in a gymnasium filled with every single student and faculty of the school for one damn S.A.I.N.T. award.

The only ones not good enough are us, the teachers. Because we fail you every single day. It’s funny that we are titled “teachers,” when in reality we are the ones who are learning. Learning from you. Every day I have over 120 teachers. Teachers who have taught me that it is no longer cool to use the word “cool.” Teachers who have taught me that “sauce” is not something you dip bland food into for a kick of flavor. Teachers who have taught me that bathroom breaks are still exactly what they used to be when I was in high school – a place to gather with friends and engage in everything but using the bathroom. Teachers who have taught me that you too have bad days just as we do and that does not mean that you are a bad person. Teachers who have taught me that you get overwhelmed and overworked and sometimes you just need a damn break. Teachers who have taught me how to easily forgive as you have forgiven me time and time again when I forget to lesson plan or make enough copies or give you the same multiple-choice test or essay prompt for the second or third time.

You so easily forgive us, yet are so hard on yourselves. Don’t let our failures on you determine your self-worth because you have to remember, it wasn’t you who failed you, it was me. So forget about how many multiple-choice questions you missed. Or how many passages you had no clue what the author’s purpose was. All of that is overrated anyway.

No matter what score those subjective AP readers decide to give you, a one or a five, you are and always will be a success in my eyes.

Mimi Suh is a teacher, a mother, a writer, and the hero of her story.

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