An Open Letter to My Students

Dear Students,

I know I spend a lot of time talking about vocabulary and primary sources and things that happened a long time ago.  I constantly remind you to plug in your laptops, use school appropriate language, and wait in the student zone until I dismiss you. I’m a teacher, that’s what I do. It might seem like I’m only interested in compliance for the sake of tidiness and ease of management, but this is what I really want for you.

I want you to not to be stupid.

It doesn’t matter to me if you’re geniuses or not. It would be cool for one of you to win a Nobel Prize, but that’s not my measuring stick of success either. I simply want you to not be stupid. I want you to be informed enough to vote for leaders you agree with rather than names you recognize from television commercials. I want you to stay away from harmful substances that excite you in right now but addict you in the long term. I want you to keep you hard-earned money safe and use it for what’s important to you, not for lining the pockets of swindlers and scammers.

When late-night talk show hosts interview people asking them to locate North Korea on a map, I want you to be some of the few that know exactly where to point. When somebody claims that all Arabs are Muslims or vice versa, I want you to correct them. I want you to read things on the Internet and not immediately believe them and share the link with everyone you know.

You don’t have to be the smartest in the world. You don’t have to break academic records. Just be smart enough to make healthy decisions for you, your family, and the world.

I want you to be nice.

You don’t have to like everybody. Not everyone has to like you. I don’t know if you know this, but I don’t like everybody. I’m cool with that, and I don’t expect everybody to like me. You don’t have to agree with everybody either. But, you don’t have to be a jerk. Speak your truth with love and walk away from who insist on fighting with hate.

Smile. Wave at people as you walk by. Say thank you to the people who bag your groceries or serve you food. Laugh at little kids who tell you jokes. Hold the door open for people with arms full of boxes. Pick up a friend whose snow machine has broken down. Little things make a big difference in the lives of others and your own.

I want you to stay out of jail.

If you’re being nice, I shouldn’t have to add this item, but I’m going to anyway. You will make mistakes, and you will suffer the consequences of those mistakes. That’s a natural part of the school of life. But, you can keep your mistakes on the legal side of things. I’ve seen the good in each and every one of you. I know that people are multi-faceted. I know that that people who do good things can have bad sides and people who do bad things can have good sides. Let your good sides shine and not be dulled by the bad. Nobody’s perfect, but serious mistakes can overshadow even the good.

I’ve never been to jail myself, but I’ve corresponded with students and former students who have, and it doesn’t seem like an easy place. Respect yourselves and those around you enough that you don’t do anything that will land you in jail. Keep your record clean so you can get the jobs you might someday want.

I want you to die after me.

I’ve heard it said that no parent should have to go to the funeral of their own child. I think the same thing should apply to teachers. I’ve been to funerals of my students and former students. I don’t like them. I cry a lot, and I feel this overwhelming guilt that maybe I didn’t do enough, connect enough, try enough in some way that might have prevented the premature death. And sometimes I know I did give my best, and it still wasn’t enough.

But it ’s not so much that I want you to stay alive to prevent me from crying or experiencing guilt. I want you to stay alive so that you can live a life. I want you to experience the thrill of holding your firstborn child. I want you to know the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a major goal. I want you to love and be loved for as long as possible.

I want you to be happy.

You were meant for happiness. Sometimes we experience unhappiness as a result of our own choices or the choices of others. But, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what anyone else has done, I believe you can still have an overall happy life.

That’s going to look different for all of you. I did the college thing and the marriage thing and the teaching thing and the children thing. I did the move far away from my family thing. I’m happy most of the time (or at least often enough that my Inupiaq name translates to happy). That might not be your path to happiness. You can be happy staying right where you are. You can be happy across the globe. You can be happy working a dream job. You can be happy with lots of posterity or none at all. You can be happy going out every night with friends or cuddling under the covers with a good book.

Find something that lights you up. Then pursue it with everything in you.  Find a few things that light you up, and build your life around those things and others who like the same thing. You get to choose. It’s your life. 

So, I’m going to keep quizzing you on geographic locations and making you do weekly gratitude journals and talking about the Industrial Revolution. I’ll continue to tell you to search up something when you have a question and repeatedly ask, “What’s a better way to say that?” Just remember, I have high hopes for you. All of you. And they mostly have nothing to do with the classroom.



Note to Readers: My students actually call me Angie.  Some prefer variations including: Pangie, Super Angie, and Angela (but the last one is only when they want to annoy me).


  1. Crystal Zook says:

    I love your board game collection! It’s rare to find someone with one bigger than mine! I might hit you up next time I am in Brevig Mission if that’s okay. I just left there a couple of weeks ago though, so it may be awhile.

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