Open letter to my students

Dear students:

The hardest part of my job was to say goodbye to all of you over the years, and, in some cases, to not have the chance to say goodbye at all.

Teaching is hard work. Make no mistake about it. It’s harder than being a student. The beautiful part of being a student is that you are only responsible for yourself. As a teacher you are responsible for yourself and dozens of young people who — let’s face it — make poor decisions sometimes. Only the bravest and toughest of us can do it.

I regret to inform you that I am not the bravest or the toughest. I am the tragic hero whose fatal flaw is sensitivity. While sensitivity is invaluable in building relationships, it comes with a thin skin. I wish I did not have a thin skin — but I do. I come from a background where I never had to compete with anyone, fight with anyone, or prove myself to anyone. I was the lovable only child with an absent father who was spoiled by his mother, maternal grandmother, and mother’s brother. I never went hungry, never cried myself to sleep, never lived in fear, and I never saw my future as anything but bright (until adulthood). I knew I would be successful in school, go to college, and be successful in life.

However, a decade of adulthood has taught me that success is complicated. The same skills that allow you to smoothly navigate high school and college do not necessarily apply to the real world. While high school and college lock you into a closed system with a limited number of outcomes, the real world allows both the freedom to succeed beyond your wildest dreams — and to fail beyond your worst nightmares.

The real world comes with responsibilities, many of which contradict each other. In my case the responsibility for all of you came into direct conflict with my self-responsibility. I cannot be responsible for your safety and academic growth if I cannot be responsible for myself. I regret that in order to build the latter responsibility, I have decided to step away from teaching. I hope that taking time away from the stress and rigor of the classroom will allow me to build the skills and knowledge that I am currently lacking. I also hope to find not the most lucrative position — but the right position — for me. While I have always thought of myself as someone who can make a difference, the environment is often stronger than the individual. It follows that placing the right individual in the right environment can significantly improve both.

If you never learned anything else from me, please remember to go your own way. It helps that it’s the title of a song — but one you are likely too young to know. You are never too young, however, to apply it. Education is not about knowing what the teacher knows or knowing what it takes to be an accountant, a lawyer, or an astronaut. Education is about knowing yourself and developing the person you see in the mirror into the very best he or she is capable of being.

In order to be able to practice what I teach (and preach), I must step aside for now.

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