Sunday, May 22, 2011

Letters from Your Twelve Year-Old Self

Pin It For the past ten years I’ve had my students write one of the most important letters they will ever compose.

You see this letter is to a very important person: themself.

When I started teaching a decade ago, at the end of the year I had my students write a letter to themselves, which I then had them seal in an envelope with a current photo. This envelope is returned to the school to me as one of the final homework assignments I give for the school year.

I then put these letters in a large, manila envelope and place that envelope in a storage box I only open twice a year; once to put a new set of letters in, and once to take an old set of letters out to mail.


About three years ago I sent out my first batch of letters, and a few days later one of my old students showed up in my classroom. I hadn’t seen this boy for quite a while, yet here he was. He smiled and I asked him how he was doing. It didn’t take long before he cut to the chase.

“I got a letter today, Mr. Z,” He said with a bit of trepidation in his voice.

“Really?” I responded. “Who was it from?”

He sat down in the chair across from me, and exhaled a deep breath. “It was…from me.”

There was a longish pause as we both sat there, not saying anything. Finally I asked, “So, what did your twelve year-old self have to say?”

The young man before me shook his head. “I don’t know, I didn’t read it…I don’t think I’m quite ready to read it yet, either.”

He paused and looked around the familiar classroom, as if reminiscing over days gone by. “I don’t remember what I wrote all those years ago, and I just wasn’t ready to read it…so I decided I’d come and visit you instead.”

He stayed for quite some time, and then eventually left. As he was leaving I told him that there was no rush, he could open his letter when he felt ready; after all, his twelve year-old self had waited this long, and could surely wait just a little bit longer.

Monday and Tuesday of this week my graduating sixth graders from six years ago will be getting their letters from their twelve year-old selves in the mail. On Tuesday my fifth graders will be writing letters to themselves that will sit in a box and wait for them for seven years.


I can only hope that these kids will give themselves the type of advice and reminders they are looking for in the future; after all, this could be one of the most important letters they will ever receive.

25 comments:

Dallas and Kirsten said...

I love this idea. Just another confirmation of how amazing of a teacher you are. Have I told you lately that I miss you?? Cuz I do :)

Laura Anne said...

Entirely brilliant.

Karen Peterson said...

I understand why he was hesitant to read his letter. I don't know what my 6th grade self would have written to me, but I am certain I haven't lived up to her expectations.

eminik said...

Beautiful :)
As a future teacher myself, I find your posts about you and your students very inspirational. I hope I can be a teacher as wonderful as you are one day. And I hope I can help my students make a difference in their own lives, their own future.
Thank you so much for sharing this.

eminik said...

Also, would you mind if I share this on my facebook? thanks

Joan said...

You are a seriously awesome teacher. I am so inspired by what you do! (You know that is teacher-speak for I am stealing your ideas.)

Have a great week!

Kelly said...

Makes me curious as to why your student didn't want to read what he wrote when he was 12. Nice post.

Mamma has spoken said...

Great idea! Especially if you have students like mine and are having mixed emotions about leaving the security of elementary school and going on to the middle school.

Teachinfourth said...

K - Thanks. You realize that I miss you, too, right?

L - I just wish that one of my teachers would have had me do this when I was a kid. I discovered that most of what I do for my students is simply because these are the things I wish I'd have had.

K - I've had students come back disappointed that they didn't write more than they did...when they were in the 6th grade they looked at it like an assignment and didn't put a lot of effort into it. Some did though and were glad. There interesting thing is is that in the three years I've sent letters out now I've only had about 4 kids come back to visit.

But then again, those 4 are those I really wanted to see again.

E - I would be honored if you would.

J - I've been known to 'borrow' ideas from other teachers occasionally, too. Feel free to use this idea...it was hard not to send the letters earlier the first few years and just leave them in the box, because nothing was being mailed out for six years when I started this; also, one year I forgot to have the kids write letters because it was still a pretty novel idea to me.

K - I gathered that this was a big thing for him, you know? A letter from across time from himself when he was 12? It was like having a conversation with himself and linking himself with his childhood...this was kind of a big thing and he felt overwhelmed at the idea and excited, yet didn't want to be disappointed as well if he hadn't written something worthwhile.

B - It was also theraputic for me. For the first few years I wrote a letter as well and put it in the box as well. In fact, the first year I went to mail them I found one envelope without a name, address, and it wasn't sealed. I was thinking, "Man, who did this?" I opened the letter and saw that it was from ME!

I read over the letter from myself as a beginning teacher. In the six years that had passed I'd grown, changed, and become a completely different person in many areas of my life. I'd asked myself questions, told myself how I was feeling at the time, and reminded myself if certain things.

It was great to get a letter from myself.

shari1172 said...

Beautiful! It would be neat if that young man would visit your class when you assign it to your next year students. He could explain how important that letter was to him.

Oilfield Trash said...

Absolutely brilliant sir!!!

Gerb said...

My mancub loved getting his letter this year. He had included a bunch of pictures and even a note from one of his classmates. One of my favorite lines in his letter was, 'I hope you have better handwriting than this.' Funny thing is, his writing is pretty much unchanged.

Pure awesomeness.

Rachel said...

I can remember writing that sort of letter years ago in Young Women's........ I wonder where it is.........

Richard & Natalie said...

I wish my 12 year old self would have done this, but I am glad that the Ash-man got to. I hope he shares his with me when he gets it in just a mere 6 years. And I hope it's not full of things about Pokemon or Mushroom Men. ;)

Carolyn said...

I did this when I was a student. It was awesome to get my letter. I am so glad you have your students write letters to themselves!

tammy said...

I love this idea.

When I was 15 or 16, I wrote a list of things that I wanted to do and not do when I was a parent. You know, things like not get mad if my kid came home past curfew, listen to only cool music, wear cute "non-mom" clothes, etc. I came upon this list a couple of years ago and it made me laugh. It was interesting too, seeing how your perspective changes.

Cheeseboy said...

True time travel. I wish I could read something I wrote that long ago. This is a brilliant idea. I hope all you students appreciate it.

Jason, as himself said...

Very nice. It is clear that you are interested in teaching the "whole child."

You're awesome, Mr. Z.!

Ally said...

call me completely insane. this post made me cry, really big tears, yet wasn't sad. what the heck, man? such a brilliant idea. i wish i had such a letter, yet i guess my diaries from age 12 will have to do, too bad all i ever talked about were movie and tv stars back then, i guess it was my escape from reality or something.

Jamie said...

What a great idea! :)

M-Cat said...

I love this idea. I just had my Young Women do this. I had them write a letter to themselves to be opened on their wedding day so I had them write their testimonies and then what they had hoped for in a future husband and things like that.

Two-fold - the letter that will be meaningful, but then it means I get an invite to the wedding : )

Helene said...

I have to tell you that my government teacher from 12th grade had us write letters to ourselves on the last day of our senior year and then she held onto them for 10 years. I totally forgot about the letter until it arrived at my parent's house 10 years later, as promised.

I couldn't stop crying as I read it...my life had turned out so differently than I had planned. In a good way, though.

I still have that letter in a safe place.

This is such a wonderful gift you are giving your students!! And I love that one of them came back and saw you after all those years. You sound like an amazing teacher!!!!

Life with Kaishon said...

I am so thankful they have a teacher like you. So very, very thankful.

criticalcrass said...

something tells me you are a badass teacher, mr. z.

Erin Shroyer said...

My teacher had me do this my senior year of high school, and four years later when I was graduating College, I got the letter I had written to myself as an 18 year old. I had completely forgotten about the letter, and it was a great experience to read what I had written in high school and to see how much I had changed. You are an amazing photographer and sound like a truely amazing teacher!! We need more teachers like yoU!!

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