Back to School: an open letter from a teacher to her students (and parents)

My dearest students,

Each year I can hardly wait to meet you. In the days leading up to the first day of school I pray for you, think about you, anticipate what grand adventures we will experience together this coming year.

In 16 (starting 17) years I have never met one of you who is the same. You are just like snowflakes – different, unique, special – all in your own way.

I have worked in urban, suburban, high class, poverty – all different kinds of schools. But no matter the economic or social class of a student, they all have one thing in common:

They want to be heard, valued, and loved.

So, as you pack up your book bags and zip up your pencil cases, I want to remind you that NO MATTER what happens this year, NO MATTER where you’re coming from, NO MATTER what you’ve done before, you’ve got a clean slate. A new start.

My dearest friends, here are my deepest heart thoughts that I want to gift to you.

Your worth is not determined by…

your clothing (Wal-mart or Victoria’s Secret? Doesn’t matter. Remember the ten year rule. If it doesn’t matter in ten years – or even five – then it doesn’t matter now. You look great in whatever you wear).

your grades (they are important, but they do not determine how valuable you are – you are already valuable without them).

your popularity (no one will remember who kissed who, who gossiped about who, and who got chosen for Student Council in ten years).

your lunch table (maybe it would be cool if you went and sat with someone NEW this year? don’t get so wrapped up in where and with whom you’ll be sitting at lunch).

your statistics (if you’re an athlete, the world will not fall apart if you don’t make that goal, that basket, that home run. Parents, please keep that in mind as well).

your appearance (fat, thin, tall, short, handsome, ugly – who actually makes those decisions? A fellow high schooler? I think not. Be proud of who you are).

what others think (I tell my students to choose the most important five people in their lives. Then listen to THOSE people whose thoughts really matter. If it’s not one of your five, then does it really matter what they say? Besides, they aren’t thinking about you. They are thinking about if YOU are thinking about them. It’s a vicious cycle).


1. …worrying. It’s like trying to go somewhere in a rocking chair. You won’t go anywhere.

2. …gossiping. Do you want people to talk about you negatively? Probably not.Then don’t do it to someone else. Gossip in a GOOD way. We call them #thirdpartycompliments. See if the good gossip gets back to them!

3. …the drinking, smoking, drugs. What’s the point? YOLO? Yeah. You only live once. And it might be cut short by a decision you make in the pressure of the moment. And everything is lost in that second. You know it.

4. …having sex. Yep. I actually said it. All my students are so precious, so beautiful, so talented, so unique. You are too young to give so much of yourself to someone you most likely will never marry. This world is cracking at the seams and I have watched too many of my students’ hearts crack because of the pain and hurt of broken relationships that went too far. It’s worth the wait, dear ones. It’s worth the wait. And if you’ve already given in, it’s not too late to wait again. There is someone who will love you enough to wait until that ring is on your finger.

5. …obsessing about fitting in.  Okay, so you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend. Then embrace your friendships! Okay, so you don’t have many friends. Then find someone who looks lonely (there are A LOT of those) and befriend them. Okay, so you aren’t good in school. Then set a goal, ask for help (I love helping students!) and work your tush off to get there. Don’t be afraid of being different. Be afraid of being the same as everyone else.

6. …focusing on your own problems. I know you’ve heard it a thousand times, but there is ALWAYS someone who has it worse. When I feel down, I try and do something for someone else, which gets my mind off of my own problems, my own discouragement. Obviously, there are times when you need professional help. Don’t deny your depression or scary feelings. Talk to someone. But its easy to focus on the little, annoying problems and get pretty self focused.

7. …listening to the negative tapes. What you speak into yourself is what you will begin to believe. So speak positivity and you will begin to believe it. Look at yourself in the mirror and say POSITIVE things. Get rid of the negative tapes that roll around in your head over and over again. They may have come from former friends or even family. But negative words and thoughts will get you NOWHERE.

8. …complaining about school. As many groan and moan and complain about going back to school,  the teachers, the building, the cafeteria food, and the administration, I think it’s important to remember (for both students AND parents) that school is a privilege we have in the United States to which many people of the world don’t have access.

According to, “Today, education remains an inaccessible right for millions of children around the world. More than 72 million children of primary education age are not in school and 759 million adults are illiterate and do not have the awareness necessary to improve both their living conditions and those of their children.”

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to improve education and make it better, but it DOES mean that we need to realize what a privilege we have in the right to an education – a required education that we can actually afford.

So when you walk into school the first day,  remember how amazing it is that you can do that very thing. School is an awesome, exciting privilege – and it is a means to an end. It will get you where you want to be (if you allow it).


It’s okay to be real. Take the mask off and embrace yourself AS YOU ARE. Be a nerd about Star Wars. Be weird. Who cares? Because if you choose your five and stick with them, they are the only ones who matter. And they will love you no matter what.

Today is the best day ever. Because if today were my last day, I would want it to be my best day. So today is the best day ever. Don’t live for the next fall break, spring break, summer break. Live in the moment. Make today the best day ever.

Don’t zombie. I tell my students this all the time. Your body language sends a message about who you are. If you sleep or space out, you might miss the moment. I know, I know. Not all classes are exciting. Not all assemblies are life changing. SO, what can you glean? What can you learn? What is your purpose for being there? And quit focusing on your own happiness! Whose life can you change TODAY?

Watch your footprint. Everywhere you go, you leave a footprint. Someone is always following you. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? On social media? At school? In the locker room? On the field? In the classroom? How do you want to be remembered? You are building that every, single day.

Listen. We’ve all experienced the people who look at their phones instead of listening to what we’re saying. When someone talks to you, REALLY LISTEN. That skill will take you far in life. Listen with your eyes, your face, your body language. Listening is loving.

Choose Joy. This is my mantra, my life verse. Every day you will be offered a plate. It’s not always something we can control. But we can control HOW we respond to it. There is ALWAYS a choice. So, whenever you can, as much as you can, as freely as you can, CHOOSE JOY. Your life will reflect that joy and make a difference in the lives around you.

You are valuable.

Just sitting there, doing nothing.

Without the accolades, without the grades, without the MVP or VIP or Valedictorian label.

Your worth is not determined by what you do.

Your worth is WHO YOU ARE. And you don’t earn it, achieve it, or create it. It just IS.

And who you are is beyond the words I can express on this page.

But I know WHO YOU ARE is going to explode on this world like no one else can.

You just need to see yourself with MY mirror.

Because what I see is a YOU like no one else I’ve seen before.

And you can choose.

The adventure is waiting for you.

I hear you, I value you, and I love you.

Can’t wait to see you shine.


Mrs. Wisehart

Mrs. Carrie Wisehart writes regularly for her blog, liveupsidedown, and also has a teaching blog called teachupsidedown. The upsidedown idea birthed when she was awarded a Teacher Creativity Grant from Lilly. Through this grant she developed teachupsidedown, a philosophy with the idea that teachers should use ANY and ALL avenues to reach students.

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