When I Write a Letter to My Students During Midterms Week

While I was proctoring midterms last week, I had this post running through my head. Clearly, midterms have since passed – both for my Thai students and for my friends in the States. So I s’pose all I can say is this: Shore this up for finals week!

To My Students During Midterms Week:

I see you bent over the stapled papers, pencils in hand. You’re on your first test of the day, and you’re still good-natured; not too much can wipe the grins off your faces. Even your second test ends with a whole heap of you sailing out of the room giggling and flailing, eager to check your guesses in the hallway. But by your third test – just before lunch – more of you are bent in full concentration, no grins, and some of you are slouched because you’re in the throes of a subject you just can’t tackle. Math, science, English, what have you.

When you get to your math midterm, my little heart breaks. For the whole hour and a half it takes you (because we dare not cut you off when the time’s really up, this is a hard one, you see), I sit in tension because I’m living through you, and it’s not a happy moment. I’m remembering my own math tests one right after the other: algebra, algebra, algebra, geometry, [I can’t for the life of me remember what I took my sophomore year, maybe it was that awful], trigonometry. I’m remembering all the sassy conversations I had with my parents and my geometry tutor about how none of this mattered, I’d never use it in real life. (And I haven’t. Yet.) I’m remembering how I spent every single lunch during my junior year of high school in my trigonometry teacher’s room because I needed extra help that badly. Goodness, I’m remembering how much I despised it all. So my little heart is breaking because I’m sitting at a spare desk at the front of the room, chair turned sideways so I can keep an eye on you, and one of you is sitting behind me in tears because you just can’t do it.

You take a little nap because, really now, who can answer these impossible questions? But of course you’ve been assigned a seat beside the smartest girl in the whole math class, and that’s not helping matters. I can imagine what’s running through your head: How does she do that? How does she understand so easily? Why can’t I be like her? What’s wrong with me? I hate this. I’m going to fail. I don’t even know how to answer the first question. (It’s true, you don’t, because you’re napping through the test as a way to avoid crying in front of me, and you’ve only used up one inch of your scratch paper.)

But I’m thinking about how brave you are, how full of resilience you don’t even know you have, because where I come from, we moan and moan and split our sides moaning three times over because midterms week is so hard. Two or three in one day will absolutely kill us. But here you are, half my age, on your fifth test of the day, and it’s only 2 o’clock in the afternoon. You’ve been here since 8:30 AM. You’ve been sitting in the same desk beside the same people with the same pencil with the same proctors all day long, and you’re not even finished yet. (You have one more to go. And then a whole second day ahead of you with six more back-to-back tests.) You’re a rockstar, that’s what you are, whatever your grades may be.

And I want to tell you that so badly, but, uh, you’re napping through a test right now. A few minutes later, I look back at you, and you’ve woken up. You’ve decided to use your scratch paper as a highlighter doodle pad. (The nap definitely didn’t come with an instruction manual for how to FOIL.) You show me what you’ve written in bright pink: “Keep Calm and Love Math.” I smile, and I’m so proud of you. You’re not going to pass your test, at least not this one, but there will be others, and perhaps what’s most important right now is that you let yourself break down, you let yourself rest from it all, and then you picked yourself back up with some truth to swing you through.

How brave, how awesome you are, students of mine. No matter your grades. Your life is more than this, I promise you, and you’ll be finished soon. (In fact, you already are. Look at that!) You are more than the awful, sloppy moments of midterms week. Woohoo!

Your Teacher

PS. If you come into the office selling hydroponic vegetables as some sort of fundraiser – one minute after I finished writing this post, mind you – I will absolutely melt and buy them from you no matter the price. I’m all mush now. 

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One thought on “When I Write a Letter to My Students During Midterms Week

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