D ear Students,

On the first day of school, I enter the classroom with an equal dose of excitement and trepidation. I’m sure you feel the same. I see a class full of girls, dressed in uniform, many with similar hairstyles. I see faces, I hear names, yet it’s all a blurred mass of unfamiliarity.

Then I get to know you. You get to know me. You enjoy our discussions. Bechirah. Hashgachah. ISIS. Life. You like switching seats often. You want longer recess, a school production. I want to finish the material on curriculum. I like clear desks. We segue from learning to discussion, and then I direct you back to learning. And more discussions, as discussions are learning, too.

Then I get to know you well. One of you has trouble grasping concepts. Another has trouble reading. One of you seems so stuck, and I notice the desire to break free. I notice different behaviors, the statements you make. I may ask the principal about that, and hear about the troubled waters you tread, the difficulties you face.

But then I begin to feel stuck. Because as I try to reach out to you, you so firmly withdraw your hand. Deep down, I know you’d like that relationship with me, because whatever we face in life, we can always use a warm guiding hand. Yet, I am stuck. I cannot find the way to destigmatize confiding in a teacher. And so I watch you fumbling through, with a facade of excitement and confidence, wishing I could connect with you, human to human.

In a classroom of 25, it is almost impossible to form that connection. And yet I try. I sometimes succeed, but often fail. The barriers are difficult to breach.

The year ends, we say goodbye. You continue upon your path of life, and I don’t know you anymore. You may marry young, or struggle through shidduch after shidduch. You may have children very close together, and grapple with your new identity as mother. You may wait years for children. You may question whether your children’s antics are normal, whether they stem from an underlying issue or whether your parenting is inadequate. You may deal with a demanding spouse, an abusive husband, a husband too frum, or barely frum. You may be beset with financial cares. You may just be struggling with the myriad tasks each day brings. You may just be confused about one little thing.

And then you wish. Why didn’t our teachers connect with us? Why didn’t we connect with them? You may long for advice or validation or a warm, understanding voice. You may want to hear from someone five or ten or twenty years older than you, who’s weathered the ups and downs of life.

Know then, it’s not too late. Even if I stopped teaching you a week ago, a year ago, a decade ago, I still care about you. I haven’t forgotten your tinkling laugh or your quiet intensity. Reach out. There are so many people in your life who care about you. Reach out to a former teacher, a good neighbor, a mother’s friend. We care.

In a world filled with love, don’t feel stuck, don’t feel desperate, don’t feel alone.

At the other end of the line, someone is happy to connect.

Your Teacher

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 546)