Dear Me

For as far back as I can remember, I have always had a Pen Pal. My earliest memory is probably writing letters to my Aunt Eileen when she went away to college and left me behind. I even recall writing a few of them {all of them?} as a first-person narrative in the voice of her calf, whom she also left behind. 
I guess I ought to examine how I really felt about her going away.

Anyway, over the years, I also wrote faithfully to Sally, my cousin LuAnn, Daryl, Linda, Marcia, Cathy, Lori, my Godmother, cousin Jim, Jo, Monte, cousin Ann, Aunt Norma, Julie, Becky, Grandma Natzke, and family back home once I moved to Texas. Any time I made a friend, I'd suggest we become Pen Pals. 
And often, we did. It was my connection to the world. 

So, as you might imagine, I've got boxes and boxes filled with 
old letters:

These are a quarter of a century old, when postage was a quarter per letter, 
way, way, waaaaaaaaay before email was even a far-fetched but innovative idea. 

Why I keep them, I'm not entirely sure, though I suppose that some day it'll be fun to go back and read through them. When one of my Pen Pals passed away a few years ago, I did gather up her seven years' worth of letters to me and send them to her sons. I didn't really want to let them go, but it felt AmAzInG to share them because I figured they might discover something new about their mom that they didn't already know from those hand-written treasures.

Oh how I wish that letter-writing weren't a dying art form.
There's just nothing like finding a personal note in my mailbox.

As I launch into my thirtieth year of teaching and meet retirement eligibility requirements, today I'm scripting a letter to that me who received those letters during my early years of teaching. In fact, let's go back to 1984 as I'm about to start my first teaching job, at Tri-County High in Plainfield, WI.

Here's what I would say to my rookie self:

Dear Barb,

Congratulations on your graduation from the University and on landing your first job. Oh what fun it'll be to start a Spanish Department and teach freshman English. Since you were called to be a teacher at such a young age, it will be your dream come true to finally have a classroom of your own. What an honor, to be able to inspire the future.

I've been praying for you and want to share a few things to ponder as you start this chapter of your life. Think about what you want former students to say about you at your retirement party and spend your career doing exactly that. Make those things part of your daily lesson plans. Be intentional; maybe it'll be something simple like "She always smiled at us!" In the end, it's all about connections and relationships.

Remember that parents are sending you their very best. Always see your students through their parents' eyes. Look for ways to make each one your favorite. Sometimes that'll be easy; other times you won't think there's anything that could possibly make that kid your favorite. Keep looking. Mine for it if you have to, 'cause it'll be worth it. Sometimes they're diamonds in the rough. You'll see. 

Start every day with gratitude for another chance to positively influence someone. Celebrate your students and plan engaging activities. Give them ownership in their learning by turning some stuff over to them. Ask yourself: What can I let go of? How can I foster voice and choice? Are my lessons kid-friendly? Remember that you're not just teaching English and Spanish; you're teaching kids. Individualize and differentiate. Every day.

Get to know your colleagues and be a team player. There's strength in numbers. Share, collaborate, and cooperate. Confront situations, but carefront people. Be brave and have courageous conversations when necessary. Sometimes you'll have to agree to disagree. 

Reach out to parents and community stakeholders. Invite them to be a part of your classroom family. Let them volunteer or partner with you to make your classroom experience the best it can be. Make sure that they know that you care about them.

Affirm people, appreciate them, and apologize to right wrongs.

Forgive yourself and others . . . over and over again. 

Be passionate and make things fun. Laughter truly is "the best medicine." But never laugh at kids, only with them. I know that, especially working with teens, you'll be tempted to use sarcasm. They might even set themselves up. Look that word up in the dictionary and resist the urge.

Show respect, understanding, and kindness to your kids. They're works in progress and will need you to walk in their shoes every now and again. Sometimes that'll be a really sad journey to take, over incredibly rocky terrain, in some smelly, nasty shoes, but it'll be important that you do it. Really important.

You don't need to be in a hurry and you don't have to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. You're going to get about sixteen hours a day and it's up to you to use that time wisely. Eat healthy foods, get a good night's sleep, and exercise routinely so that you're always in good shape and have the physical and emotional stamina to go the distance. Dream big, but be willing to take baby steps to get there. Be patient; it'll pay off.

You don't have to be the best; just do your best. Show up on time and be ready to go. Be fair and compassionate in all of your dealings. Remember that fair doesn't always mean equal. Do what you can to level the playing field whenever possible. Work hard and weave integrity into your DNA because doing the right thing must be a non-negotiable. When you don't know what that is, ask. Surround yourself with people of good character and they'll always help you when you get stuck.

And always give back. Volunteer, serve, donate. You'll end up bountifully blessed in ways you can't even imagine right now.

I'm sure there's more, but I'll close for now. Savor every minute of this first-year of many more to come.  Take good care of yourself so that you can enjoy the journey. Above all, your students will remember how they felt when they were in your presence. Make sure that's a gift that will bring them joy long after they're no longer yours.

Con cariño,



  1. Those are beautiful words Barb for the rookie and the veteran.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

    1. Ah, thanks Tammy. The letter's been brewing in my mind for some time now. I always appreciate when you stop by the Corner!

  2. What a neat idea for reflection! I agree that letter-writing is a lost art form. My sister and I had pen pals when we were little-hers from Ghana and mine from Australia. We learned so much from that experience-I wish more kids today would be interested in something like that.


    1. The Sally I mention actually lived in England. It was SUCH a thrill to write 'air-mail' letters and imagine them flying over the ocean to arrive at their destination. Thanks for stopping by and sharing a bit of your story.

  3. What wonderful words of wisdom from a wonderfully wise woman...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

    1. There you go, sprinkling JOY at the Corner. So much magic in your little purple box!!

  4. Just beautiful! We have 6 new classroom teachers this year and four of them are off the farm fresh. Will share this at an orientation meeting with them! What a great idea and I just want to "ditto" what Kim said above.

    I know it's not the same, but have you ever had pen pals within the school? I have paired older students and younger students that I work with in separate groups (for whatever issue...the pen pal thing is an extra in the group) and it's so much fun when after a few weeks, they get to meet in person. (Except for the few who "cheat and meet" before I say so by hooking up on the playground!) It's fun and a great way to support the writing curriculum!

    1. Thank you, Lisa, for your kind words of affirmation. And no, I've never thought to try Pen Pals within the school ... but you better believe I'm going to try it this year! Thanks for the suggestion. Do you give out names or just have them write Dear-Friend letters? Oooo, what fun.

  5. What a sweet letter! I would love for you to have been my teacher or have taught my children! A great reminder for those of us out in the field now! Thanks!
    Sandi at Literacy Minute

    1. What a beautiful thing to say. Thank you, Sandi, for stopping by to fill my bucket!

  6. You always leave me with a smile! And wagging tail!

    1. Rhythm, one day we will meet in person and I will savor that tail wagging!


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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