Love Letters for My Students: An Annual Affair

LLetter Collage copy

As a parting gift to my senior high school students (and, more so, a gift to themselves), I ask them to write a LOVE LETTER TO YOURSELF which I store for four years and mail to them upon their intended graduation from college.

In order for the letters to have some meaning, particularly for those students who don’t know what to write, I provide them with some direction of a reflective nature and let them go from there.

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LLetter Love Letter to

Lletter hindsight

Reflect on who you were when you entered the high school as a freshman. What were your hopes and fears? How did the high school appear when you first entered it? With whom were your friends? What were some of the things you did outside of school for fun? What were your goals for the next four years?

Lletter insight

Reflect on your growth over the last four years. In what ways did you change? What were some of your crystallizing and paralyzing experiences during the past four years? How did you involve yourself in the HS community? How have your friendships changed? Who have been some of your mentors and how have they affected your HS experience? What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Lletter foresight

Project where you think you will be four years from now. What accomplishments will you have made? Will you be graduating, continuing your education or working? Who will you have kept in touch with from HS? What goals will you be making in four years for your future/career?

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While some students write the bare minimum, most expand upon what I’ve prompted them to write. I’ve seen some who ask their friends to write notes to them which they include in their envelopes. Some include a graffiti’d rendition of their four-year experience. Some are very decisive about how they want their signature to look in order to see if it changes four years from now. No matter what personal touches they decide to add, they are uniquely their own.

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Each May, I pull out the bulking envelope of 40-80(ish) self-addressed, stamped envelopes including their letters written four years earlier. Although it takes me a few weeks, I write little “love” notes to each of them who had kept their envelopes open (as I encourage during the writing process). Some notes recall an outstanding memory I have of them, some best wishes for their futures, some more detailed, as it depends upon our connection when they were in high school. No matter the words, the message is the same, I care about them and their development as people, the kind of caring that extends beyond their short time with me in the classroom.

LLetter katie

With eager anticipation, I take one envelope at a time (never reading their letters, as promised, because I want them to write honest and personal), reflecting over our time together. It’s something that is a gift to me, too, because it reminds me the purpose of my job beyond the doldrums that come at the end of a long year, trudging through the last months of school with senioritis at an all-time high, on the students’ part, and exhaustion at combating it, on my own. The purpose is to validate how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown since our time together; further, it’s a gesture, on my part, to foster the love of learning in each and every day, and beyond their short time with me.

Most students, many of whom contact me after receiving their letters in the mail, had forgotten they’d even written them, so this truly comes as a surprise. Here are some of the responses I’ve received after mailing them out in May:

letter 1

letter 2

letter 3

letter 4

Love letters to yourself aren’t exclusive to the classroom. In fact, the night before our wedding, my husband and I wrote letters to each other and opened them on our first anniversary. It was neat to see what we’d been thinking on the cusp of a day that would change our lives forever. Also, I have written letters to each of my children during their high school years that I give to them when they graduate. As any parent of a teenager knows, there are some trying times during those high school years, but letter writing to your children helps put it all in perspective. Beyond the nostalgia, it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come and that we do surprise ourselves even when we don’t expect to.

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Lletter question

A Window of Opportunity with The Great Gatsby Release

Gatsby tickets

Amidst lots of hype, a delayed release, The Great Gatsby debuts, FINALLY. Besides being directed by one of my all time favorites, Baz Lurhmann, the cast is amazing: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire. I’m predicting, now, this will be Leo’s ticket to Oscar, also long overdue.

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I’ve been teaching this novel to junior high school students for years. There are not too many American literature novels that I love and none that I love to teach more than Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a timeless classic that defined the Jazz Age and makes us all question love and the American Dream. The language of the novel is challenging, and the subject matter difficult for high school aged students to relate to, but it’s a classic and I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least expose them to it. So, since I heard about the remake of this film (done earlier with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in 1974  and again with Toby Stephens and Mira Sorvino in 2000, neither of which I liked), I’ve been conjuring up excitement and anticipation in my students that mirrors my own. I even went so far as to invite them to join me with the promise of doling out some extra credit. But even without the dangling extra-credit carrot, I do believe most students are excited about it. They’ve seen the trailers. Some, who I have as seniors who did not read it as juniors, have even asked to borrow the novel to read before they see it on screen.

Gastby Novel cover

Just as I approach any adaptation of a novel, I am cautiously optimistic that it will somehow enrich all of the beautiful imagination the words on the pages have conjured up in my mind. This adaptation of Gatsby did not disappoint. With twenty six junior high school students in attendance, myself and my former student teacher, we sat in the theater wide-eyed and immediately entranced by the soundtrack. One cannot speak of this adaptation without addressing the modern-day flair given to old school jazz through Jay Z, Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, Florence & the Machine… just to name a few. I was literally swaying in my seat. Further, the cinematography, propels the viewer into the scene (and I didn’t even see it in 3D); Lurhmann is masterful at making the viewer feel like part of the experience and, like Nick Carraway, a voyeur.

Among my favorite scenes was the party scene in New York, set in a high rise amidst the Valley of Ashes. There is a sax player sitting out on the balcony doing his thing while Lurhmann takes us on a ride of windows popping out at the audience to show us exactly what’s going on inside. Nick Carraway, after an exhausting journey of alcohol and drugs and sex, like he’s never been accustomed, as he admits, delivers one of his famous lines,

Gatsby Quote 1

Another of my favorite scenes is when Daisy is on the floor below Gatsby sitting on his bed while they are caught in the midst of laughter as Jay is throwing down an array of  colored, silk shirts upon her from the balcony of a closet above. It’s a scene of innocence and opulence all at the same time until Daisy’s laughter turns to tears and we feel her regret at every having let Gatsby go. The thing about this scene, that I must have read a hundred times, is that, in this moment, Lurhmann brings it to life for me. Previously, I’d rushed through description after description of the shirts, but in seeing it, the idea of what might have been resonates within me.

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The Great Gatsby Featurette

The ever present green light, looming, on Daisy’s dock. The 3D eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, watching. The orgiastic parties of music, libations, dancers, confetti…celebration and sin. The stark contrast in Nick’s humble cottage as compared to Gatsby’s grandiose mansion, polarizing the two men. The seediness of the Valley of Ashes mirroring Myrtle and George, the darkness within them. The hope that sparkles in Gatsby’s eyes when he delivers the lines:

Gatsby Quote 2

The film is like a majestic tapestry culminating the symbols and themes and characters that Fitzgerald so poignantly put into words.

In my experience, viewing an adaptation as a substitute for the original never works because it always falls short of the imagination. But in viewing an adaptation as it’s own work, a representation of the original, a viewer opens himself up to a whole new experience.

Gatsby Quote 3

As the credits rolled away, I sat for a moment, overwhelmed, for I’d been completely satisfied. Out in the lobby, I was met by twenty six students who, wide-eyed and expressive, couldn’t wait to share how much they’d enjoyed the film. I remembered how they’d grumbled when we’d begun reading it in class. “It’s too hard,” “It’s old,” were among the early rumblings I heard. But when we heard it would be a film, there was a shift, suddenly the fact that it was relevant enough to put on screen called attention to it’s worthiness as a piece of literature. So, if this is my window into the classics, for these kids, I’m going to take it.

Great Gastby Jay

I would like to thank the academy of… Liebster

liebster award

I’m not really the award winning type. Though I’ve had Sally Field visions of an acceptance speech that goes something like… “They like me. They really like me.”

In this case, it’s more “They really like my work,” and that’s exactly what I’ve been aiming for. So, yes, I accept this award and am humbled by your nomination, with a side of serendipity. Thank you!

The Liebster Award is an unofficial award that is passed through the blogging community from blogger to blogger– there is no overseeing authority, no prize money or anything official really: it’s pure blog (ger) love, which is pretty awesome.

 So, should you choose to accept my nomination, as I pay it forward, there are some protocols to follow:

 1. List 11 random facts about you.

2. Answer questions asked of you by the blogger who nominated you.

3. Nominate 11 other blogs for the Liebster Blog Award and link to their blogs.

4. Ask the award winners 11 questions to answer once they accept the award.

5. Notify the bloggers of their award.

So… here goes!!

I.

Random Facts

1. I love to travel and my favorite places are Cape Cod and England– the only two places I’ve even been that I never want to leave. I get this sinking, pit-in-my-stomach feeling when I do.

2. The first story I ever wrote was called “Blinky: The Camera.” I wrote it at age 8 when I was people watching at a train station waiting for my parents to return from vacation. I still have the story.

3. I love looking at old pictures imagining the stories that go along w/ them

4. I don’t write as much as I want to.

5. I’m short and I hate it now more than I ever have.

6. I don’t like peas. They are the only vegetable I won’t eat.

7. Number 6 was the first random fact I wrote. That’s as random as it gets!

8. My favorite sense is scent. And my favorite scent is fresh air dried bed linens.

9. I LOVE reality TV. It’s my guilty pleasure. I think what I like about it is that it’s other people’s drama.

10. If I had a superpower, it would be to recall the people in my past lives and recognize them consciously in this one.

II.

Answers to Nominator’s Questions

1. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is shower. I never feel awake until I do.

2. I write because it’s not a choice. It’s like breathing for me.

3. My favorite song at the moment is Just Give Me a Reason by PINK featuring Nate Ruess

4. BOTH Poetry and Prose. I go in phases between writing poetry and novel writing. I’ve tried writing a screenplay, but haven’t completed one, YET. I don’t like to write short fiction.

5. If I could have coffee with any person, dead or alive, famous or not, I would choose my grandmother because I miss her so much.

6. My favorite sports team is any team my kids play on. They have played/do play ice hockey and lacrosse. I’m a great fan of my children’s sports, not so much the professional ones.

7. My comfort food is without doubt pizza. I could eat it every day!

8. Vocation all the way. I’m a teacher and a writer– emphasis on the word AM.

9. I ONLY write in my native language; although, even that seems foreign to some, sometimes 😛

10. The last movie I saw was Safe Haven, and I loved it. I so didn’t see the end coming.

11. What inspires me? Everything. Hence the motif of my blog: Mirror Muses.

III.

The Blogs I Nominate

Reel Club– because I love movies ALMOST as much as Kate

Sass & Balderdash – besides the amazing title of her blog, she’s relevant

12 Novels – a fellow writer and NaNoWriMo-er

Cristian Mihai– he’s honest and writes deep

Teacher Girl Blogs – because I can relate to her

The Write Frame of Mind – fellow writer whom I admire and his advice has been helpful

Classroom as Microcosm – she makes me think as a teacher, woman, and writer

My Write Side – I enjoy this writer’s work

Jennifer Brown, Writer – I can relate & she has some good writing tips, too

mypenandme– seems like a really cool person w/ unique perspectives

Ray Ferrer-Emotion on Canvas – visually stimulating

IV.

My Questions for the Nominees

1. What inspired you to begin blogging?

2. If you could choose any career in the world, what would it be and why?

3. Morning person or night owl?

4. How old were you when you began writing?

5. Identify any character in a novel you’ve read that you’d like to meet.

6. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

7. What is the most interesting place you’ve even been?

8. What is your preferred writing genre?

9. What film would you recommend your worst enemy to see?

10. What do you NOT want the world to know about you?

11. Which of these questions was the most difficult to answer?