A Letter To My Eighth Graders

With only a few days left with my students, I’m thinking how far they have come in their reading and writing skills this year. Their final writing assessment has actually been a pleasure to grade. But now, I want to follow them out the door yelling, “Wait, there are still things I want you to learn.” No, it’s not about commas or reading strategies; it’s about life. So, here is my last lesson for them.

Dear Students,

As you head into high school, you will learn many life lessons on your own. Chances are your heart will be broken at least once, you’ll wonder how someone trusted you enough to put you behind the wheel of a car, and you’ll learn what the outside world is like when you get your first job. Since I won’t be next to you to hold your hand through those times, here is my list of lessons for you.

10. Don’t be afraid to fail. No, I don’t mean your classes. In high school, take risks and try new things. My biggest regret from high school is that I never tried out for a high school play. I was too scared. I didn’t want to fail. During my senior year, I saw how close the people had become in the play … and I was jealous.

9. Ask questions. Question your friends if they are heading in the “wrong direction” in life; in fact, you might even question if you should stay friends with them. Question what is in the drink that someone handed you at a party. Question your teachers if something doesn’t sound right. If you think of a project that you would like to try, ask your teacher if he or she will support your new idea.

8. Keep reading and writing. Well, of course, this has to be in my list of advice. Reread what you have written before it becomes public. I don’t care what anyone else says, if your writing is filled with mistakes, people automatically assume you aren’t intelligent. Read all sorts of genres … who knows, you might discover a new author who becomes your favorite. Better yet, write a book (or two) of your own.

7. Be kind. Be kind to each other in high school. What do you want people to remember about you at your 25th reunion? If you pass away, what will people say at your funeral? (Okay, morbid, I know.) Become friends with people from all different cliques and all different cultures. You get invited to more parties that way. 🙂

6. Get to know your teachers. Yes, we actually like when students share their private lives with us. Most of us also like to share our lives with you. It is those people who come in to talk with me because they want to, not because they have to, whom I will stay close to.

5. If you have a problem, find an adult to help you. I know that as teenagers, you will always turn to your friends first. But don’t forget, most teenagers haven’t lived through the problem you are experiencing. There is always an adult who will be able to relate to what you are going through. Even if it seems like we have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager, trust me, we haven’t. Those times are ingrained in our minds.

4. Work to become financially independent. I know that sounds like strange advice now, but getting a job might teach you more lessons than you will ever get in a classroom. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to school. I’m saying that you should find a part-time job, even if it’s only during the summer. I’m saying that you need to learn how to treat other people, how to save your money, and how to take care of yourself before you graduate college.

3. Read and write. Wait, I already said that one.

2. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. If it seems like it’s a sheep in a wolf’s clothing…. run! Don’t wait to find out if it’s a sheep or a wolf. My point is that you are a great group of people. I trusted you to not steal candy out of my room. I trusted you in a classroom with my purse sitting right there. I trusted you to walk around the school, as long as I knew where you were. I did all of this because my instincts told me that you are a great group of people. Yes, we had some rough patches along the way, but in the end, I trusted that you would make the correct decisions in the long run.

1. Believe. This has been my theme for you this year. During our This I Believe unit, you wrote about a belief that was important to you. Go into high school keeping your same belief. Believe you matter … all of you learned that even a 13- or 14-year-old can make a difference in the world. During our Pay It Forward community service project, you learned that even a little act of kindness can make someone’s day. During our Project Bliss unit, you learned how powerful it can be to try to make a change in the world. Personally, I believe that all kids can make a difference in a world—someone just has to guide them on how to start.

So, my students, it is time. Time to let you go. Time to let you fly. Time to share you with the high school teachers. I keep telling them how much they are going to love the freshmen next year … don’t let me down. As much as I would like to have you return as my student next year, I know you must move on. As I always say, “Once my kid, always my kid.”

Remember to come visit me next year. And don’t forget … show respect, own it, and be kind!

You R.O.K!
Ms. Holst

Judi Holst is an eighth grade language arts teacher at Rocky Heights Middle School in Littleton, Colorado.

Published in AMLE Magazine, May 2015.