An Open Letter to Teachers at the End of Their First Year as Such

Dear Esteemed Teacher,

First off let's go ahead and just acknowledge the obvious and still often understated; we did it! 

I'm writing this letter, primarily, to those of you who, like me, have just completed their first year under the banner "teacher". I imagine that you, also like me, have a whole host of emotions and thoughts swirling around your minds surrounding this accomplishment. 

Maybe you had an amazing year. Maybe you feel like after surviving this year, you can do anything! Perhaps you feel like yours was a class of future presidents, in large part thanks to your brilliance as a teacher and your ability to transform young minds. It's possible that you've already been invited to speak at the next TED summit on education or to go before Congress in order to share with them the Answer to the Question that has become public education in the United States that you single-handedly discovered over the last nine months. Or maybe, like me, on the last day of school,  you slumped into your chair, laid your head on your desk, and after that final bell, just wept. 

Because perhaps you got to the end of that last day and thought, "you know maybe this isn't for me after all". Or perhaps the thought was "they didn't cover that in school". Or maybe, though you're not second guessing your call to the field, or your preparation for entry into it, you question whether you will ever truly be able to make a difference and wonder if anything you do, in light of the greater picture, will ever matter. 

I hope that at the very least, no matter what your experience was this year, that you are filled with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude because when I say we did it, I'm talking "the royal we" did it. Because God knows we didn't do it alone. 

I've had a million cheerleaders along the way. None of whom I could have made it without. It takes a village so before anything else, I'd like to express some gratitude to the members of mine.

To my Mom; thank you for being my first teacher and my life-long teacher. To my colleagues; thank you for the inspiration, the encouragement, the support, the laughs, the tears, and the constant reminder that it will be okay and it will get done, whether it gets done or not. To the people who "brought snacks because they knew I'd be hungry and couldn't stand to see me that way" in meetings, thank you. To the yous, whomever and however-many you are, who brought coffee, kleenex, Diet Coke, classroom supplies, bandaids, burritos, and baked-goods; thank you. To Ms. Bonnie Baker, my high school English teacher and all-around inspiration; thank you for challenging me to find and offer my Emerson gift. I'm so glad it has evolved beyond singing Dashboard Confessional covers with my then crush. 

And to my students…thank you, though thank you will never be enough. Thank you for the tantrums, tears, and trials. Thank you for the laughter and the love. Thank you for the ways you made me hit the wall, drove me up the wall, and on occasion threw things against the wall. Somehow by the end of each day you consistently broke-in to my heart and helped remind me that you each are exactly who and how you are meant to be and I simply have the task and privilege of walking with you as you journey into the realization and actualization of that little person. So with that, thank you for allowing me to witness the remarkable walls you hurdled, bounded, and broke down.  

So I guess the question, then, is what's next?

Well I'd like to make a few suggestions and offer a few reminders:

If you are someone who is, after their first year of teaching, wondering if it is actually for you…I'm going to be honest… it probably isn't. But! If you have come to the end of this year through hardship and heartbreak, over administrative woes and the extraordinary trials and obstacles that your students face, and can still say and more importantly believe, I must teach, then teach you must. Your success as a teacher will never be measured by test scores or reading levels. Rather, it will be measured in belly laughs and wide-eyed wonder. If you, in the midst of great teaching trials and tribulations, feel even the slightest lifting of your spirit by even one student understanding or experiencing something for the first time, teaching absolutely is for you and I'd suggest you give it some more time before deciding otherwise.

I'd also like to suggest the flu shot.

Additionally: Location. Location. Location. I attribute much of my success this year, and by that I mean surviving, to the proximity of my school to the local watering hole, and by that I, of course, mean local craft beer tap room.  Which just so happened to be across the street. Am I suggesting that an endless flow of beer contributed to my professional development? No. (Please keep reading, Mom.) What I am saying, however, is that misery loves company. And what I mean by that, is there is something to be said for, at the end of the day, walking away from the absurdity, and crying until you can laugh, and then laughing until you cry with your colleagues until you have somehow found the will, strength, and desire, to return and do it all again the next day. So my suggestion, then, is spend time with your colleagues outside of school. Learn about them. Find out what makes them tick. Discover what it is they care about. Uncover why it is that they must teach.

I'd also like to remind you that teaching is a practice. Like lawyers practice law and doctors, medicine; we as teachers must be practitioners of education. May we hold tight to those methods that are effective and move us and our students into our respective futures. And may we hold loosely those ideas that are yet to be refined, lest we, with white knuckles, cling to our methodologies over the hopes and dreams of the students with whom we’ve been entrusted. If something doesn't work, trying something new! Don't be afraid to fail. If you don't on a somewhat regular basis have a lesson asbolutely flop, you're doing something wrong. 

Another reminder: casual Friday. It only works if everybody participates, people. Don't be that person who shows up on the fifth-day wearing a skirt or a button-down or god-forbid close-toed shoes. I'm not just talking about casual Friday. I'm mostly talking about spirit Friday, and by that I really just mean be someone whose enthusiasm for learning and life is contagious. If it requires wacky-hair day then so be it. 

As to whether or not you felt prepared, I'd like to make this suggestion: take most everything you learned while in school in pursuit of your teaching credential with a grain of salt. Or better yet throw it over your shoulder with some salt for luck, because sometimes a little bit of luck is going to be your only shot. Know that the most important lessons to be learned about teaching come not from the classroom, but rather come at recess when you discover that one of your students hasn't had snack or a lunch in a week. You might be, methodologically speaking, the best teacher in the entire world, but your students won't learn a damn thing if their stomachs are growling. And the intuition to consider that cannot be found in a text book, rather it can only be discovered by the opening, and unfortunately oftentimes, breaking of your heart. 

Perhaps most importantly: remember to give thanks. Practice gratitude. To do this you must view life and all that comes with it as a gift. You have to see that seemingly devilish student with a penchant for evil as a present gift-wrapped in a bow. The staff meetings that somehow always fall on the days when you'd literally rather be on fire are like birthday cake! The parent conferences and emails…those are the cherries on top! At least that's how you need to try and see it. Because in all things there is something to be thankful for, and by finding and giving thanks in and for all things, the opportunity to teach becomes the gift itself. 

Lastly, please know that you absolutely can and will make a difference and what you do most certainly matters. If not teaching, then doing whatever else you might pursue. The question, though, is what kind of difference will you make. It is my firm belief that in teaching a child, and more importantly in teaching a child to learn for themselves, you are shaping the future; watering the seeds of hope, and hopefully change, that will grow into a future that is bright, shining with the light of justice, equality, and love. 


Carissa Lemos
Special Day Class Teacher


play ball!

Some of my very fondest family memories involve Giants Baseball. So it would follow then that one of the things I've enjoyed most while being here has been watching the beginning of this season with family, but on the other side of the world.


the eagle has landed

First let me just clear one thing up: if you've been vegan a while, you can't just pop into In n Out for a grilled cheese on your way to the airport and not feel the repercussions. Unfortunately, in this case, I fear those sitting near me for the next 12 hours of flying felt, or more appropriately smelt, those repercussions as well.  

But moving on...

We got through security and to our gate in great time. The alarmingly pregnant (I have a pretty irrational fear of pregnant women in public) woman who checked us in was nice enough to seat us together. I was relieved to know we were seated in the back of the plane, as everyone knows (at least everyone who has watched Lost) that the people in the back survive in the event of a crash.

I noticed, as we boarded that there was a woman, probably early 70s, posted in a row of three seats, arms folded. I don't know if, indeed, no one was assigned to sit there or she just scared them off, but sure enough when we took off, she had the row to herself. Shortly after take-off, as I tried (and failed) to get comfortable I felt a simultaneously remarkable and embarrassing amount of satisfaction in realizing that the arm rests only folded half way up. Sleep well, lady.

I eventually fell asleep and woke up roughly 10 hours later. Apparently I was tired? We landed in Auckland, under the cover of 5am darkness, without event.

We stopped for an early morning walk at Piha Beach. This might be the best photograph ever taken.

Piha Beach with Lion Rock barely visible on the right.

Roxy wasn't keen to climb Lion Rock and can be seen there on the bottom left.

Jetlag eventually got the best of us. Again, so photogenic.

On Monday morning we went for a hike around Blue Lake accompanied by Digby, a rare Kiwi miniature horse. Known in America as a big ass dog.

My face here is a visual representation of how I feel about the level of humidity.

Kiwi Couple

How two people can look so good is beyond me.

-power to the peaceful


away we go!

Tonight Mama Bear and I take to the skies to embark on an adventure of the New Zealand kind. We'll visit the Kiwi cubs and have endless adventures along the way. Check back often for photos and stories.


pomp and circumstance

Tonight I had the distinct privilege to deliver the 'commencement address' at a beloved friend's graduation celebration. Below you'll find what was shared.

Jordan, today you graduate
The day for which you could hardly wait
The first day
Some would say

Of the rest of your life
Except, of course, for the day you met your wife

Never again will you have to say
"I can't. I've got homework today"

In case you forgot
A bachelor you're not
Instead you've a Bachelor of Arts
Because of your smarts

And now, for you, I have some advice
Aside from the usual, "always play nice"

Don't be afraid to reach for the stars
But you should know, it may leave some scars
The scars they will fade
Someday only memories made

In their place will be left lessons learned
A payoff, of sorts, shed blood returned

Always play fair
For there's no better way to show that you care
Life's not about winning
Start each day as a new beginning

Go slow and steady
Beginning when ready
But if too long you should wait
You might be too late

Lock your doors at night
It will save you some fright
So that your friend Jack
Can't come indoors through the back

For the love of god wear some shoes
So that you don't end up on the news
"Man loses toes
It's winter, they froze"

And while we're at it trim your beard
It's not that it's ugly, it's just that it's weird
There's half of your face I've never seen
I'm just saying, I'm not trying to be mean

I think of you as a brother
Though we don't share the same mother
you enrich my life
And so does your wife

When faced with adversity
True to yourself you must be
Remember who you are
And you'll never stray far

And if for some reason you do
Remember this too
There's no mistake
From which you will break

Everything's connected
We're all effected
You must always remember
We're each a member

Of society
Forget piety
Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.
Instead of thinking it's 'them vs. me'

I've just a few things left to say
Close attention it'd behoove you to pay
The future's yours for the taking
Society's lies need breaking

Because they'd have you believe
It's not better to give than receive
Take all that you can
Buy in to 'the Man'

I pray that you won't
I'm begging you, don't
Believe in the lie
That you should idly stand by

While the world remain damned
Will not one take a stand?
So here I challenge you
In all that you do

May you never forget
The best is not yet
Hope is a four-letter word
That unlike the rest, is seldom heard

So, Jordan, on this day
I want only to say
Although school has come to an end
It is now the world you must seek to mend

It is your graduation night
For which I was tasked to write
These words now shared
By who have cared

So let's celebrate
There's no reason to wait
Were there ever a reason to dance
It'd be pomp and circumstance