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A thank you letter to graduates from a middle-aged public high school teacher

Dear Graduates,

Tomorrow, I will be a part of what I believe will be my twenty-first high school graduation as a teacher (student teaching included).

And every year, it gets a little different, but for the right reasons.

If I do the math correctly, I literally have had thousands of students come through my classrooms whether to take a class from me or to be a part of a club or extracurricular that I helped sponsor. Add to that the familiar faces who engaged me throughout the halls of the schools where I have taught, especially the place where I now teach.

Not everyone gets a chance to be enmeshed that much in the lives of others. Good teachers see that as a gift, and I try and be a good teacher because I have come in contact with great young people like yourselves.

I would love to say that I got into teaching riding on a wave of positive ideology prepared to sacrifice myself into a life of service worthy of a feel-good movie about teachers.

I didn’t. There were selfish reasons why I got into teaching and there continue to be selfish reasons why I remain in teaching. One is that I like to listen to myself talk. Another is that I like to engage people in conversation that requires thought.

And, it keeps me young – at heart at least. I still get run across athletic fields, scream for the home team, dress in spirit wear, and still learn about the very things that I went to school for and go to games for free.

I actually keep thank you notes and letters from students. I will take them out every so often to look over them when I need some validation. Teaching is a hard occupation, especially in North Carolina where the terrain of politics and reform has changed so much that the structure of public schools has had its foundations cracked in multiple places.

But if there is one thing that my almost twenty-one years of teaching has taught me to be grateful for is that what keeps everything together are students. And so I want to thank you for that and for…

every eye roll that let me know my jokes were overused,

every groan given because of an unannounced in-class essay,

every comment about how my clothes did not match,

every gasp of relief because you actually passed the test,

every vulgar word you put in annotations about having to annotate,

every bite of food you took in class when you were not supposed to,

every excuse for not doing homework,

every confused, far-off look you gave because you were not paying attention,

and every non-sequitur you offered to keep the class off topic.

Why? Because those instances made me decide to be a better teacher and those instances pale in comparison to all of the other intangibles could never measure or put a monetary value on.

Those instances also made me learn to celebrate every victory you had in class or out of class.

So many people will measure you with standardized test scores, transcripts, and other arbitrary measurements. I don’t really see you as standardized people.

I hope you don’t see yourself as “standard” either.

Many of you will be leaving home to venture new roads. Remember to call your loved ones and there are many of us teachers who would love to hear from you no matter how long it has been. In fact, most of us will always consider you our students.

My classroom is always open to you.

Just make sure you check in at the front office.

Stuart Egan

Stuart Egan is an English teacher at West Forsyth High School in Winston Salem, North Carolina.