I don’t remember much about my time there. It all kind of runs together, doesn’t it? It seems like every day—every single moment—is the most important thing that could ever happen. Until it just isn’t. I remember one of my teachers, because he remains one of my favorites, and I suppose he’s one of the reasons I’m now standing here teaching you. I definitely remember many of my friends, because I’ve kept them. So many grown-ups will tell you that you won’t keep the friends you have now into adulthood, but they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I’m here to tell you there is an unexplainable reassurance that only those who have stayed with you through decades can provide. They’re part of the solid foundation that’s kept me safe in the kind of storms I wish I could protect you all from.
Find your crew now and keep them. Treat them right and expect the same.
I think I was a Sunset Eagle cheerleader for about two weeks. That’s how long it took me to figure out it wasn’t who I wanted or needed to be. Perhaps in part due to that experience, I’ve known for years that we all should have a “thing”. My thing is water, specifically swimming. It’s smiling and laughing and making other people laugh. It’s writing, although I rarely do it anymore. [I’m working on that, and my sixth grade self would be very disappointed to hear I stopped writing with regularity. Disappointing the child I once was is my least favorite person to disappoint.] Maybe I have some more “things”, but it’s definitely not being a cheerleader. Sometimes finding out what you’re not is just as helpful.
So find your thing, and don’t let anyone tell you your thing is lame or dumb or somehow less than theirs. You can have more than one thing. Don’t give your thing up because you have a crush on someone and you think it’ll impress them. Don’t stop your thing because a teacher or even a parent doesn’t value it or it isn’t quantifiable on a test. You are an artist, a mathematician, a poet, a scientist, an athlete, a mechanic, a whatever-you’ve-decided-you-are. Because you can’t actually be anything in the world, kid. But you can be just exactly who you are. If you don’t know who you are in sixth grade though? Trust me, you’ll figure it out.
You are allowed to change your mind.
We’re now a little over a month into the school year so this morning as I watched you all settle in more, I tried to think harder about my own sixth grade year. I wanted to think about how it was for me, so I could relate to you. But can I relate better to you than I already do? I don’t know. My entire teaching philosophy is focused on the sentence “Be who you needed when you were younger.” Yes, we have English curriculum. Yes, I teach it. I know grammar, although I certainly don’t always use it perfectly myself. [My Twitter timeline is a testament to run-on sentences simply because I want to use them.] Sometimes I have no idea where you’re coming from. Other times I understand so much I have to take a deep breath before answering your shattering questions. As I tried to think about my own experience I was overcome with other emotions that had nothing to do with me and my history and everything to do with you and your present.
Today’s quote was “Treat everybody like they’re somebody.” One of you was convinced I was the author of that quote, even though I cited it properly [Chelsea Leifken]. Still, you said it just sounds like something I would say. I hope you’re right, and I’m flattered. Someone else jumped in and said “But Ms. Jensen doesn’t lie to us, so it wasn’t her. It was that Chelsea lady!” And now I’m honored; you’re truly getting to know me, and that’s what this life is meant for.
Last week when I quoted one of my own best friends—the first time I quoted someone I know in real life, you all lost your minds: Is he famous? Where does he live? Does he fix scary things for you? He protects you from stuff? Can he be our new Science teacher you think? Call him and ask! PLEASE?!? So boys and girls can be best friends even when they’re grown-ups? Are you gonna-marry-him-I-mean-we-know-he’s-just-your-best-friend-but-stilllll? Will he come visit us one day? Does he like soccer? OH MY GOD WILL HE COME PLAY SOCCER WITH US?
You guys are ridiculous. Please don’t stop being that way. Just don’t talk over each other [or me], and stay in your seats during class.
I know as a child I worried a lot. Excessively. I still do, but not to the degree I did then. My greatest fear then was something bad happening to someone in my family. Based on the autobiography poems my students wrote on the first day of school this year, it’s most of their greatest fear as well. This past weekend it came true for one. I have no delusions about my abilities to help him or the rest of my class through this. But I have no confusion about the importance of my role either. To lose a mother at any age can’t be easy. To have it happen in a high-profile situation when you’re 12?
He’s gonna need his crew.
We got this. We can do difficult things. I’ve learned a thing or two since finishing sixth grade, the rest of school, then coming back to teach, and maybe that’s one of the most important. We can do anything together.
Tomorrow we write.