What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Danielle Reed.

I think about your stories on my drive home. When I cook dinner for my family, I wonder if you ever found your missing book. I call my sister and we laugh hysterically about the things you’ve said in class, even if at the time I acted mad at you. I love seeing you outside of school, and meeting your families. What I want you to know about being your teacher is you are always in my heart.
I want you to know that I see you. Yes, you. You and I have only exchanged about ten words all year, and during class you sit quietly, head down, praying I don’t call on you or ask you to speak in front of anyone. I want you to know that I understand how you feel. You just want to get through this class (and possibly this year) as invisible as possible. You should know that I care about you, and every day I think to myself, “Maybe this will be the day we connect. Maybe she’ll come ask for help today. Maybe I can get him to smile at one of my dumb jokes.”

I want you to know sometimes I get so frustrated at you that I want to walk out of the room and drive home. I notice when you come in and throw paper on the floor, or at another student. I see you break pencils and flick them around the room. I notice when you text other students asking for answers on tests and assignments. When you talk during my instruction, and then have the audacity to ask, “Why didn’t you tell me this was due today?” I wonder how you’ll make it out of Westmoore. The reason I don’t get on to you every time you act up is because if you are making choices like this, there will always be consequences. I want you to know that I will let you fail and make mistakes, and hope you learn from them.

I want you to know that you are more to me than a student. When I look at you, I see potential. I see the future. I will always remember you, and I expect you to stop in at least once every year until you graduate, if not more. I want to know your achievements; I want to hug you when you fail. I want to meet your boyfriend or girlfriend so I can look them up online and decide if they deserve the honor of being near you. Oh and you should know I look for you online all the time. Sometimes I regret it, but most times I just laugh at the silly things you say.

I want you to know I understand your life is hard, and most of the time English I is the farthest thing from your mind. I know you’re worried about going home to parents who yell at you. You’re wondering if you’ll even have dinner tonight because your parents are out of work and there’s no money. You’re worried about being kicked out of your house. Sometimes, you go home and you are the parent. You’re stressed because you have practice after school and work after that. I want you to know that most teachers will be forgiving if you just talk to us about your situation, and ask for extra time or help with your work. Give it a shot. If they don’t try to work with you, then I want you to come let me know.

I want you to know that standardized tests do not define your potential. They do not reflect who you are, or who you will be. Don’t let those things worry you. Just know that you will be tested throughout life, but most of the time how you approach each challenge is infinitely more important than how many points you score.

I want you to know the best part of my job is watching you figure yourself out. I remember your stories. I carry your heartache with me. You have shared secrets with me that I know you haven’t told anyone else. When I think of how much trust you have in me, it makes me feel humble and honored. Thank you for being open with me. I will hold your secrets safely, I promise.

I want you to know that you are always going to be my kid. I have students that are now in their early 20s, married, with babies of their own, and when I see them I hug them tight and ask all the questions I can. I will follow you after you leave me. I’ll watch you succeed or fail, depending on the choices you make. Remember: just because you make mistakes doesn’t mean you haven’t made me proud. Life always offers another chance.
I want you to know the reason I can connect with you so well is because I tell myself every day—I am going to be the type of teacher I wish I would have had when I was your age—and try so hard to be present for you. Showing you how to write essays and read poetry is important to me, but not as important as setting a good example, and showing you how to reflect on who you are, and figure out who you want to be.
What I want you to know about being your teacher is that I think you are exceptional. You are creative. You are hilarious. You have the most beautiful face I have ever seen. You are smart. You can do this. You can move mountains and crack the world open with your ideas and innovations.
So don’t listen to the noise, my precious one. When you hear you’re worthless or you’re ugly or you don’t matter I want you to know those people are trying to bring you down to their level because you are so much better than them they can’t stand it. I want you to know that instead of fighting back, hold your head up, keep working hard, and prove them wrong.
What I want you to know about being your teacher is that I am already proud of you. I am so blessed to have been a tiny piece of your journey. If you only take one thing away from this year with me, please take this: You are a diamond. Demand to be treated so. You are worthy of everything life has to offer, and I expect nothing but excellence from you.
Love, Mrs. Reed