As another school year winds down, I find myself remembering those teachers who taught me far more than their subject matter—lessons about an unknown world full of challenges and possibilities, and things about myself which they saw but I couldn’t.
My college-age daughter once shared with me a handwritten letter from one of her high school teachers. She’d held on to it, not just because the words are precious and true, but because they came from a man who remains passionate about stirring the hearts and minds of young people.
That’s something we should cherish.
I’m sharing this letter (with permission) because it offers something we need more of right now. It’s an awesome reminder for teachers, parents, and students about the lessons that are—ultimately—most important.
This school year seemed to go by more quickly than all of the others. The older you get, the more you’ll realize that yourself. I’d always expected teaching to get easier as I gained another year’s worth of experience, but, at least for me, that’s not been the case.
Teaching is like an assembly line. I start the year—every year—with the goal of working on a product, molding it, sharpening it, and making sure it’s ready to be passed on to the next worker. Throughout the entire process, I know I’ll never get to see the finished product. The very best of them never get finished. They keep growing and changing, learning and reflecting as time continues to pass.
Right now, you’re all young; that’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because you’re inexperienced, and because of that, it’s easy to be short-sighted. Instant gratification is something most of you seek, because you haven’t been around long enough to understand how amazing it feels to get a reward you’ve fought for, devoting years of hard work and sleepless nights to something you knew may never actually happen. It’s easy to live inside a telephone because so many people pad their ego by the number of followers they have or how many likes they get on their fourth selfie of the day.
Your generation is filled with people living two lives: a real one and a digital one that sometimes feels even bigger than the other. In that latter world, it’s so easy to allow yourself to become consumed. Everyone posts their opinions without thinking them through, and they assume that everyone cares about their thoughts. They post what they’re eating and how sad and angry they are because they think that the world owes them so much of its undivided attention. In reality, the world doesn’t owe you a thing. The sooner you figure that out yourself will be more time you have to bust your a** to get the things you really want in this life. Those of you who can do this will go places the others won’t. And for me, not being able to see the places you’ll go makes this job challenging.
Let’s not forget, however, that your age is also a blessing. You have time to do whatever you choose to do if you’re willing to work really hard. You have time to make mistakes and learn from them (and then make them again because some mistakes are fun). You are heading toward being responsible for yourself in a world with seven billion others who are fighting for more: more money, more education, more love, more land, more friends, or simply more meaning.
So let me give you some advice to help you in your quest for more.
- Go out of your way to be kind to others.
- Only ever look in your neighbor’s bowl to make sure he has enough.
- Listen more than you speak.
- Being really smart is really beautiful.
- Don’t pump pessimism out into the world.
- Read every day.
- Allow yourself to be moved to tears.
- Surround yourself with good people who genuinely care about you.
- Always be working toward a goal.
- Learn to long for something that requires really hard work.
- Go out of your way to be kind to others. EVERY DAY! (In case you forgot.)
I hope you earn all the great things you desire in this lifetime you have. I hope you’re ready for the next worker on that assembly line.
If you need me, you know where to find me.
I keep a copy of this letter in my desk. The young parts of me sometimes need reawakened and reminded with such challenging, hopeful words. I pull it out every now and then, recalling all of the beautiful and horrible places I’ve been since my favorite teachers passed me along that assembly line.
I hope they know I still carry their most important lessons with me. I hope they can be proud of who I’ve become. I hope they realize I’m still making mistakes, but still learning and growing. And I hope they delight in knowing how their lessons still light my path.
If you have teens in your world, share this letter with them. Talk about it. Meet them on the road they’re traveling. Be honest and vulnerable. Challenge them. Encourage them. And tell them not just your expectations, but also your hopes for them.
Believe me, they need it.
Don’t we all?
Please share this with the loving hearts in your world … and give a shout out to teachers!
If you’re a parent, teacher, or work with kids in any way, check out Bert’s book, X-Plan Parenting from Simon & Schuster’s Howard Books.