ICYMI: A Letter to My Lost Student

A Letter to My Lost Student, originally posted on December 17, 2017, mourns the sudden and unexpected passing of a former student.

As I mentioned to my students the day I received the sad news, there are going to be some things that happen in life that defy all reason, events that simply do not compute. This is one of them.

Because life can be so unfair sometimes. And there’s nothing we can do to stop its cruelty unfortunately.

 

Throwback Thursday: Hail to the Chief

Originally posted on September 24, 2015, “Hail to the Chief” is the eighth and final letter in series of letters I wrote to my first eighth grade class as they graduated from high school. And I still do not know why my boss endearingly referred to the boy as the “Chief.”

You are a testament to what kind of student Thornton-Donovan School strives to educate, but you are the one who deserves the plaudits for becoming the young man you are today.

Through your tireless work ethic, you’ve managed to become better than proficient in English, which as you know, in relation to your own language, is not the easiest translation. I commend you for all that you’ve been able to accomplish and look forward to all that you will accomplish.

You should be proud of what you have done, for I know you’ve made your family proud and you will continue to. I know I am.

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ICYMI: The Last Christmas in Manhattan

ICYMI: The Last Christmas in Manhattan, originally posted on December 29, 2017, reveals all the feelings that went into moving to Manhattan three years ago and all the feelings that have emerged on the cusp of my wife and my impending move from Manhattan.

That’s a lot to digest (and it’s also assuming that we survive the co-op process, which is makes my ass ache just thinking about the process we’re in the midst of).

So here’s some Home Alone to get settle your agitated Monday morning.

Throwback Thursday: The Student Who Had The Best Hair

“Throwback Thursday: The Student Who Had The Best Hair” constitutes a reintroduction to some old letters I wrote to some of my former students. When I previously posted them, I underscored the importance of particular ones. I am now highlighting certain ones in Throwback Thursday posts.
Here is the original introduction: On June 19, 2015, the first eighth grade class I ever taught graduated from high school. My honeymoon precluded my attending their graduation, so I wrote each of my former students a letter. 

As I always tell you, I couldn’t be any prouder of you for all that you’ve been able to accomplish at T-D and all that I know you will accomplish moving forward.

However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that, outside of the academic plaudits you deserve, you must also be commended on your development into a young man.

Another day at Thornton-Donovan School

Another day at Thornton-Donovan School

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The Last Christmas in Manhattan

Manhattan bustles in the holiday season with its mesmerizing storefronts and bright displays and deals that really aren’t deals at all, with its teeming streams of shoppers and sightseers, with its luminescent lights down Park Avenue that shine in the night.

I thought maybe we would get a little pristine snow and gander it before the machines taint it in grime. But, alas, that wasn’t the case. Just the sub-20 degree temperatures as my father-in-law sends me pics of the pool he’s next to in Florida.

This year, as my wife and I were about to set up our Christmas tree and decorate for the holiday that seems to come upon us quicker and quicker each year, we had a realization. This will be our last Christmas in Manhattan for the foreseeable future.

But, why would we leave the only place my wife has ever called home, a place where our closest friends and my wife’s family reside? Because most have to leave eventually, unless of course they want to rent their whole lives away or they have indispensable cash or are willing to buy and bet that Manhattan real estate value will continue to go up even if it appears it can’t go any higher. I think that’s called a bubble.

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Throwback Thursday: The Student Who Was Wise Beyond Her Years

“Throwback Thursday: The Student Who Was Wise Beyond Her Years” constitutes a reintroduction to some old letters I wrote to some of my former students. When I previously posted them, I underscored the importance of particular ones. I am now highlighting certain ones in Throwback Thursday posts.
Here is the original introduction: On June 19, 2015, the first eighth grade class I ever taught graduated from high school. My honeymoon precluded my attending their graduation, so I wrote each of my former students a letter. 

I do not need to give you advice since you probably won’t take it, for if there’s one quality that joins you and your brother it’s your steadfastly headstrong nature. However, this letter isn’t about him; it’s about you and the impact you have had on me from an educational and humanistic standpoint.

Admittedly, I hated middle school when I was in it and I swore to myself that when I became a teacher I would never teach it. After fighting with some of your current and former classmates in eighth grade, however, I realized that middle schoolers, just like high schoolers, could relate to my perspective. You, in particular, were one of the few in that class who got it at the time.

You’re wise beyond your years, for sure, and your advanced intelligence sets you apart from a majority of your peers; however, make sure you take time for experiences that push you beyond what’s familiar to you. Without taking a chance, I myself might never have become a teacher or a writer. I might be stuck at a desk right now scrutinizing a spreadsheet as opposed to stuck at a desk staring at a bunch of seventh graders struggling mightily on regurgitated questions.

The mural in the lobby of Thornton-Donovan School where I teach middle school English

The mural in the lobby of Thornton-Donovan School where I teach middle school English

Finally, enjoy what remains of your childhood, for once it’s gone you can never look at the world the same again.

As Frost says, “Nothing gold can stay,” but I think you’re about to enter a golden age neither of us have the clairvoyance to predict but I’m sure will be as enlightening as it will be rewarding.

Only the best for you and your family,

 

Mr. Chapin

 

The Pain of Growing Up

I mentioned in “A Letter to My Lost Student” how appropriate – really fateful – the posting of “Throwback Thursday: Letters to My First Students” was in light of what happened. I was originally going to write about how middle school-aged kids were so consciously and unconsciously cruel to one another and how it’s amazing how so many kids survive middle school.

Then, Thornton-Donovan School suffered a nearly unbearable tragedy on December 11 when one of our former students who was still very much connected to the school took her own life. Consequently, I pushed that piece of childish cruelty, for this piece had to be written first.

For years I’ve had students whose maturation and actions and accomplishments have filled my heart with pride. This is specifically the reason why I have remained at Thornton-Donovan School; this strange place has granted me the opportunity to impart above-grade-level knowledge and strategies on precocious middle schoolers to prepare them for high school. Whether they are actually granted the opportunity to apply their skills in high school is a discussion for after I leave Thornton-Donovan.

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Throwback Thursday: The Student I Actually Enjoyed Talking To

“Throwback Thursday: The Student I Actually Enjoyed Talking To” constitutes a reintroduction to some old letters I wrote to some of my former students. When I previously posted them, I underscored the importance of particular ones. I am now highlighting certain ones in Throwback Thursday posts.
Here is the original introduction: On June 19, 2015, the first eighth grade class I ever taught graduated from high school. My honeymoon precluded my attending their graduation, so I wrote each of my former students a letter. 

It’s rare I find a student in eighth grade who I actually enjoy having a conversation with outside of the functions of my job. You, sir, are the exception.

When I first met you roughly five years ago, you were a struggling young man who had so many interesting ideas without the means to articulate them. I like to think I helped you with this, giving you an outlet to express yourself and a soundboard to vent your frustrations. I’m not mentioning this to pat myself on the back, though; I want you to realize how far you have come.

Now, the man I speak to knows how to express himself and can manage his emotions and communicate them productively. You’ve shown yourself to be a creative, wildly imaginative thinker whose inquisitive mind lends itself to lifelong learning. Never lose this zest for gaining knowledge, never stop questioning, never stop being you.

The back of Thornton-Donovan School

The back of Thornton-Donovan School

As you’re on the precipice of an entirely new set of experiences in the fall, understand there are challenges ahead. Do not settle for mediocre; you’re so much better than that. Make sure you work ahead, not behind. Keep schedules, go to the library, and get some regular sleep. Then, there will be time for the fun, and the fun is that much better when you earned it.

To say I will miss our colloquial chats is an understatement. They don’t build kids like they used to, I guess. Maintain your childish sense and continue to giggle at the silly stuff (at the right time and place, of course); that’s what keeps us young no matter how old we are.

Email me if you need me, for I’m always here for you, and enjoy your summer.

All the best to you and your family,

Mr. Chapin

A Letter to My Lost Student

I found it quite appropriate that the December 7th “Throwback Thursday: A Series of Letters to My First Students” should preface this post, another letter (we’ll ignore that the original post on December 7th was incomplete before being updated and re-posted this morning).

This letter below differs considerably, however. In it, one will not find advice for high school seniors entering one of their most uncertain summers and on the precipice of their first year as college freshman.

No, this letter unfortunately is in memory of a former student whose family I am particularly close to, a family currently experiencing unfathomable anguish.

What provoked this letter was not my initiative, but rather students at Thornton-Donovan School who in short time planned and executed the construction of a memory book. In a moment of tragedy that I will expound upon at a later time, the lowest of my entire teaching career, I do not think I have ever been prouder of kids.

Thornton-Donovan School via Benoit Van Lesberghe

And it has nothing to do with academics. But everything to do with being human and understanding and supporting one another in a moment that they unfortunately never will be able to forget.

Here is the letter I wrote for the memory book:

Romi,

In the beginning you were Nikki’s younger sister to me. I figured you would be just like Nikki when I first met her as a sixth grader – quiet and scared of the world around you that Thornton-Donovan insulated you from.

Then, I spoke to you and soon realized you guys each had your own distinct personalities. You weren’t Nikki. You were Romi. Sure, you were quiet at times like Nikki, but you had this confident self-assurance in the work you did that I remember wishing I had at your age. And you had a biting and quirky sense of humor, which is always a plus in my book.

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Throwback Thursday: A Series of Letters to My First Students

Note: My apologies for the original failed posting of Throwback Thursday: A Series of Letters to My First Students – technical or human error, let’s say human error. It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks in good and bad ways. But that’s a discussion for another time.
The mistake, though, seems to have worked out as perfectly as a mistake can, for it sets up the upcoming posts of the coming weeks, which was in fact entirely unplanned.
And yes, I know, it’s not Thursday anymore.

Another day at Thornton-Donovan School

Throughout the summer of 2015, I posted letters I had written to the high school graduating class of Thornton-Donovan seniors, many of whom I had taught when they were in eighth grade. These letters were drafted because I could not attend the graduation (I had to get married – sorry).

Anyway, I will be re-posting the letters in the coming days and weeks, for I believe I did a pretty poor job presenting them initially. Also, these will serve as sort of a preamble for a bigger piece I am currently working on. I’d be remiss if I said I wasn’t trying to sort my thoughts still from a tragedy that occurred to begin the week.

Here is the first one that relates to a student who is now a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. I would rename his post “The Student Who Did Not Proofread”:

Dear ___________,

Well, at the very least, we can both say that in eighth grade you learned the merits of proofreading your work.

You were always a good student and a respectful, young man. I know most of the trouble you got in, in my class at least, was partially attributed to ____ or ____ or ____ or ____. What struck me about you was your maturity at your age, your calm and gentle demeanor, and your drive (although it sometimes waned when writing longer essays).

Offering you some cliché, prosaic advice about staying out of trouble is not necessarily my style. I think you know all of the temptations and their corresponding pitfalls that await you in college. All I will say is, remember why you’re there first and foremost. Then, once you get the grades, whatever you choose to do in your own free time is gravy (just don’t get arrested).

Also, I realize I do not have to tell you about how important your family is and I know you’re at the age where you’re probably too cool for them, yet once you get to college you’re going to realize exactly how significant they are.

I know you’ll take care of business in this next phase of life. In the process, though, do not lose sight of where you came from and who you are. Keep up your relationships with your professors and, above all else, proofread anything you put your name on.

 

Only the best for you and your family,

 

Mr. Chapin