An Open Letter to My Students #saveTFAjax

A reflection on classroom lessons, dreams, dodgeball, and commitment

Dear Kenny, Nick, Jamaya, Clifton, Jamon, Chaniya, Deiondra, Maurquise, Tresoir, Andrew, Onyea, Aniya, Saekwon, Travon, Roodson, Aaron, Trezure, Demetric, Niyae, Justin, Yarleen, Asante, Tabari, Viance, Laurissa, Carli, Angel, Yamil, Keandre, Serene, Dustin, Neriah, Vanessa, Angelica, Genaro, Manasse, Francine, Lacey, Jeremiah, Karree, Kaimyn, Caesar, Jawaid, Jamari, Emani, Isaiah, Jenneh, Danielle, Juliana, Kionda, Katrina, Henry, Brittany, Ben, Oscar, Samari, Ja’niah, Kelly, Joana, Sydney, Eura-Shay, Abby, Maddy, Alayshia, Kwamae, Colson, Jakeline, Deven, Keanna, Ron-Keith, Nathaly, Adriana, Kamisa, Chloe, Lauren, Danny, Rayshyn, Kyrin, Isaiah, Ayual, Dion, Wilbert, Mona, Zhanyelle, Alaya, Noelle, Aysha, Darnell, Saith, Noelle, T’aveon, Edwin, Sebastian, Abdul, Abdeta, Cathryn, Justin, Xavier, Torie, Jamison, Qanard, Bailey, Allarez, Ra’sheed, Jeleasa, Brian, Emma, Zarianna, Jayne, Terrell, Justin, Izaiah, Keaunna, Trinite, Taefon, Jahquez, Brianna, Shyherra, Sheterria, Breanna, Malachi, Chythia, Enrique, Shanari, Lenard, Jamie, Olivia, Simerlande, Sanaya, Kyle, Na’karia, Jessica, Hade, Jordan, Kimora, Corey, Isabella, John, Sam, Marcus, Michael, Eh Ler, Briana, Noah, Kimbreuna, Camille, Naloni, Khendria, Kayla, Mayah, Kierra, Jasmine, Na’Shai, Tyler, Johnterria, Glorida, Samaiah, Brandy, Mercy, Terrell, Danielle, Eboni, Jayson, MiKayla, Talia, Ashley, Hakim, Zahid, Marcedes, Shisam, Zakiyah, Nia, Chase, Arkeen, Kameron, Marcelle, Malisha, Niara, Rahim, Justin, Andrew, Selma, Terrion, Justin, Jania, Isabella, Jasmine, Titus, Tiana, Ayana, Zaire, Ruben, Breonna, Kem’brel, Brandon, Neissa Berleus, Chris, Tay’ana, Amaya, Cierra, Jamone, Samuel, Vincent, Jayden, Sonay, Mekhi, Joe, Eboni’, Seyidayo, Angel, Syrenitee, Soknarin, Jasmyn, Lakasha, Tykelia, Dino, Tayton, Angel, Noelia, I’yonah, Le’Dan, Tykee, La’darius, Derrian, Denay, Corey, Sadie, Nathaniel, Malaysia, Jose, Zackary, Lexie, Sierra, Darius, Amerah, Isaiah, Monica, Tavaris, Victor, Johnathan, Jose, David, Dalton, Matthew, Bryant, Jabari, Sharieef, Chriseana, Stephan, Kenny, Lashanna, Mackenzie, Delores, Sincere, Emily, Ra’naya, Matthew, Jessica, Iaisha, Julian, Ali, Jabari, Dillan, Jhabari, Nigel, Alex, Jaydan, Angel, Jeremiah, Aramis, Zaveon, Diamond, William, Joseph, Jessica, Jamyah, Tiffany, Quatavius, Jaquay, Rhiana, Makenziee, Kourtnie, Mya, Dachliana, Malia, Andres, Dae’sean, Marie, Doralys, Edwin, Marie, Brandi, Akiely, Taryn, Angel, Jacob, Iyana, Gracelynne, Waleed, Makylah, Albertha, Casilee, Karismar, Keaira, N’kaiah, Sascha, Jeremy, Lucy, Delmy, Ja’kayla, Kahari, Mandrill, Courtney, Mykel, Dominique, Lauren, Keely, Megan, Barresha, Lauren, Rebekah, Juan, Timothy, Taniyah, Armani, Taquane, Nathan, Kaliyah, Edward, Isabella, Ethan, Shania, Paris, Angel, Abdullah, Amaree, Dylan, Jayvon, Aunalyse, Alix, James, Logan, Jayden, Czionna, Meshael, Erik, Hannah, DeShawn, Taye, Logan, Korie, Harley, Michael, Riley, Vinaya, Brandon, Cattirinna, Shamyah, Destiny….and any other student of mine I’ve accidentally omitted.

I hope this letter finds you well. We’re only 20 days from the end of school year! I know you’re itching for the freedom of summer, but I’m also sure that you’re working hard to finish out the year strong.

As always, I want you to know that I am so proud of all of your progress you’ve made.

Over the past two years, I have been your 8th grade English/Language Arts teacher. We all know that that means we’ve done a lot of reading and writing. Together, we’ve read and annotated books, poems, articles, plays, short stories, movies, and song lyrics. You’ve helped me understand the newest song lyrics, phrases, and trends. On the other hand, I’ve taught you how to dissect text like you’re performing the coolest experiment. And we’ve written (a lot) — letters, short responses, essays, stories, poems, and speeches. As a class, we have sat in Socratic Seminar circles making connections between the texts, ourselves, and the world around us. You’ve asked the difficult questions and learned that sometimes — it’s okay not to have the perfect answer. I have watched you grow as readers. I have seen you blossom as writers. You are scholars and leaders ready to change the world. I can’t wait to watch you do it.

I served as your AVID teacher. In AVID, we learned about college and careers. Together, we became more organized, stronger leaders, and we learned that asking for help is part of our growth as scholars. I watched your G.P.As soar higher and higher through your involvement in the program. We discussed some of the universe’s most difficult problems in our philosophical chairs exercises and seminars. We went on the coolest field trips and I watched your eyes light up when you got to meet “real college students!” As a class, we also celebrated all of your hard work in a brutal game of trampoline dodgeball…which I think you enjoyed much more than me! And I’ve watched you begin to dream toward and beyond college. You want to be diplomats, doctors, lawyers, educators, athletes, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, mechanics, scientists, mathematicians, chefs, and police officers…and you will be.

In between our classroom lessons, I’ve been your coach. As your coach, I’ve also been one of your biggest fans, watching you excel in volleyball, football, softball, and scholar bowl! Often times, your athleticism far surpassed anything I could offer as your coach. And yes, I’ll admit — we learned volleyball together. As you learned how to serve and spike, I learned too. Every time we won a game, it felt like we’d won the Super Bowl! To my softball players who agreed to try a new sport so that our school could field a team — your determination and dedication was the most inspiring action I witnessed in 2016.

Of course, somewhere along the way, I’ve served in other roles in your lives — both at school and in the community. I’ve been your grade level chair and volunteered on other committees. After school, I have been your tutor, and your mentor. We’ve celebrated your successes — like getting A/B honor roll, winning essay contests, and your acceptances to the best high schools in Duval County. We have also grieved together following disappointment, death, and tragedy in our lives. Most importantly, however, we’ve persisted. You have persisted. You have progressed. You have overcome. You have succeeded despite your fears, circumstances, and challenges.

You know me as your teacher, but I am also a 2015 Teach for America Jacksonville Corps Member. Teach for America Jacksonville is an organization that brings people to our city to teach for a minimum of two years. Most of us didn’t go to school to be teachers, but for a variety of reasons, we chose to teach in Jacksonville. We’re here to help make sure our schools have fewer vacancies and to help ensure every student in our county has the opportunity to get a quality education.

I’m telling you this because recently our school board has been talking about removing their funding for Teach for America. This basically means that people like me wouldn’t be coming to Jacksonville to teach kids next year (and maybe even the years that follow).

Some board members have been saying some things about Teach for America corps members that I wanted to address. When we come to Jacksonville, we only sign a two-year contract. Some people think that our commitment stops there. It’s true that some of us move on after two years. Some of us go to law school, graduate school, or go to work in other places. But, some of us stay.

I can only speak for myself as your teacher.

I want you to know that while my Teach for America commitment ends on June 6th, my commitment to you will never end. I will always be in your corner as a teacher and mentor. No matter where life takes you, I will always be one of your biggest cheerleaders.

On June 7th and in all days that follow, keep sending me those invitations for music/dance recitals, AAU games, church services, celebrations, and honor society inductions. I’ll keep showing up.

On June 7th and in all days that follow, don’t stop asking me for book recommendations, feedback on your writing, and help with your homework (except math…please don’t ask for help with math!).

I look forward to watching you soar as your go after your goals. 
I am so excited to continue watching you grow into bright scholars.
I can’t wait to watch you walk across the stage of Duval County’s fantastic high schools in 2019, 2020, 2021, and beyond.

You will always be my students. And I will always be so proud of you.

Love,
Mrs. Martin
Teacher 
Teach For America — Jacksonville
#savetfajax

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