Dear Students,

There you sit, fresh faced from your summer vacation.

Well…most of you are bright eyed and bushy tailed, to quote my father. Some of you look like you’re going through detox, which, I confess, I understand: summer vacation detox is hard.

I watch you glance around the room, your eyes full of questions: “who are my peers? Who is this ginger (it’s actually auburn…you’ll learn to tell the difference) midget standing at the front of this room, smiling at us? Why are there truffula trees painted on the wall? Is she holding up a sarcasm sign? Now she’s moving again…lady, please just hold still for two seconds, yesterday I was still mid-REM cycle at this point.”

Some of you have been forewarned by your friends: “Ms. Bates is mean.” “Ms. Bates is strict.” “Ms. Bates…” Some of you may have even interacted with me during your seventh grade year at sporting events, pep assemblies, the talent show, the dance, Science Olympiad, in the hallways…the list is almost endless.

I hand you a document: Policies and Procedures, AKA How-To-Survive-In-Ms.Bates’-Classroom. You pretend to pay attention as we go through it. Somewhere in the back of your mind you make a mental note: need to sign and have parents sign. Hand signatures back in. Worth points.

What I want to give you is this: a list of promises. I won’t: you’d find it cheesy and roll the eyes that you’re trying so hard to keep open. But, I want you to know this list does exist.

~I promise you that I am here because I chose to teach and I did not settle.
~I promise you that I will make mistakes, and lots of them, from grading to scolding you when you weren’t doing anything scold worthy.
~I also promise you that I will apologize and own my mistakes, asking you to forgive me.
~I promise you that I will call or email your parents, even if my Spanish is lousy and they laugh at me for a month. This isn’t because I want to make your lives miserable: it’s because I want your life to be extraordinary. Your parents have you for much longer than the nine months you’ll spend with me, and I think it’s important they hear from someone who hasn’t raised them how their child is doing.
~I promise you I will call for the good as well as the bad.
~I promise you that though I might stay blank faced when you make that inappropriate (albeit hilarious) comment, I am appreciating the wit it took to make the pun, and I will tell my friends and family about it later.
~I promise you that I got in trouble daily for talking, so I am not judging you when I tell you to please stop. I’ve been there.
~I promise you that I will not try to micromanage your time in my classroom: so you spent ten minutes of silent reading time daydreaming about the cute young man or woman across the table from you? Been there, done that, turned out just fine. Just don’t make it a habit, make sure you get your work done, and it’ll be fine.
~I promise you I will expect nothing less than your best. I also know that you will have off days, because I know I do. We’ll get through them.
~I promise you I will keep your crush a secret, though I cannot promise you I won’t ask you what’s wrong with you in private.
~I promise you that I will do my best to seat you next to said crush if at all possible…I was 14 once too. Ask me about it sometime.
~I promise you that at the appropriate times, I will discuss our shared outside interests with you with enthusiasm; however, in the middle of notes about the parts of speech is not that appropriate time.
~I promise you, it is more important to me that you take away the life lesson of “when’s an appropriate time to discuss the cliff hanger those jerks on Sleepy Hollow left us with” than the lesson of what a subordinate clause is.
~I promise you that when I see you in public I will take my lead from you. If you want to just make eye contact and nod, I will do the same.
~I promise you that I will do my darnedest to only teach you what I think is actually going to matter in your life. Unfortunately, sometimes my hands are tied and I have to teach you about subordinate clauses, in which case I hope I teach you this life lesson: sometimes, life doesn’t just hand you lemons, sometimes life chucks lemons at you with great force. Catch ’em, juice ’em and make lemonade.
~I promise you that when you send me a “Thank an Educator Card” I keep them. I know some teachers display theirs in their classroom: I take them, I laminate them to protect them, and I put them in the pages of a scrapbook. When I’m having a bad day or wondering why I do what I do, I pull them out and remember your smiles, your words, the funny but inappropriate remarks you made, and I am heartened to try it another day.
~I promise you that you are not a number to me.
~I promise you that I have screwed up. Royally. Over and over.
~I promise you that if you need to talk, I will listen. Nothing is more important to me than you. If you need a shoulder to cry on, I will gladly let you do so. If you need someone to hold your hand while you tell your parents something, I will do that too.
~I promise you that if you need a butt chewing and are starting to become your own worst enemy, I have no problem issuing said butt chewing. I also have no problem reminding you that you are far better than you are acting. I will be your biggest ally as you turn it around, but I will not do the turning for you.
~I promise you that I will catch every plagiarism attempt. Don’t even think about it. Your words are what I want to hear: If I wanted to read the author you plagiarized from, I would! I want to know what you think.
~I promise you that I do not care if you are black, white, brown, yellow, red, orange, purple, green…you are my student and I am here because I want what is best for you. I will do my best to engage you, to support you, and to make darn sure you know you are capable of whatever you decide you want to do.

Most of all, students, I promise that I will give this my best, day in and day out. All I ask is that you do the same.