Simone Larson
RoundTable columnist Simone Larson

Dear Students:

Welcome to the doldrums of winter.

During this time of year, it can be incredibly difficult to find motivation to do much of anything. All I really want to do is curl up on my couch and read a great book. All I really want to do is retreat.

As a teacher, I pay close attention to these feelings. Our students must feel similarly. Most years around this time, I notice a slight shift, a downturn in overall student productivity and performance.

So this year, I decided to get ahead of it; I decided to write my students a letter. And I want to share it with you and your families, just in case it was at all useful or resonated.

Dear 7th Graders:

I’ve realized something, and it only took me 13 years of teaching to do something about it.

So here goes: every January, after winter break ends, I find teaching to be really hard. It could be because during this time of year, it’s difficult to find motivation. The weather is cold and bleak. We are missing large amounts of Vitamin D delivered to us from direct sunlight. Personally, my energy feels low and depleted.

positive black boy doing homework in copybook
Photo by Katerina Holmes on Credit: Katerina Holmes on

Around this time of year, I find it useful to restate my purpose, my why for teaching. Why do I do this? Why do I wake up each morning and come to teach you guys? I could be elsewhere, performing a number of different careers that would all have me earning a decent paycheck. So why do I choose to come here and be with you?

For starters, I like it. I love teaching. I like listening to you guys realize something or understand something new, maybe for the first time ever. I like listening to you talk to your peers, problem solving and convincing one another of your point of view. You make me laugh. The stuff you guys come up with, that sometimes comes out of your mouths, can be truly ridiculous in the best way, and I just have to smile.

Also, I LOVE reading and writing. I really look forward to First Chapter Fridays,* because I enjoy learning about and reminding myself of all the great young adult books out there, and in turn exposing you to new books you may be interested in. 

Also, I really appreciate reading your writing, especially when you put solid planning and creative thought into what you’re saying. I love looking around a room and seeing every single kid completely engaged in a given task: whether it be reading or writing or discussing or thinking. 

Those are my biggest reasons why I love my job. The reasons that I continue to come to work in a school building and not in an office cubicle. 

That being said, this job is not without challenges. I have really hard days, just like you. When students don’t engage deeply in my class, it bothers me.

When I have to ask someone for the 10th time to put down their iPad, it bothers me. When someone doesn’t work their hardest, or when I see some of you opting out of difficult tasks because they seem insurmountable, it bothers me. Not because I’m mean, but because I know you are capable.

I also hate being interrupted by side conversations, whispering and just goofy, off-task behavior. We only have 80 minutes together, five days a week. That sounds like a lot of time, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually not. We have so much to cover in a given year and every second is precious.

So now it’s time for me to get to the point. You need to write back. Please tell me your why; we’ll call it your student-purpose. What do you hope to get out of this class for the remainder of the school year? What books are you hoping to read? How will you challenge yourself and grow as a writer this year? How can you stay motivated as we move further and further into the dreariest months of the year? How can your behavior impact the entire class? What can you do, what is in your control, to make sure we have a productive and successful rest of the year in this class?

Most of all, what kind of person do you want to be?

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

See you around,

Ms. Larson

*I did not make up First Chapter Friday. It is a well known literacy strategy. It consists of the teacher reading the first chapter of a different book every Friday to expose students to new titles they may be interested in pursuing on their own. The First Chapter Friday books are overwhelmingly preferred and checked out from my classroom library.

Simone Larson

Simone Larson

Simone Larson is a third generation teacher. She lives in Skokie-Evanston with her husband, two young children and a dog.

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  1. Bravo, Simone! Thanks for sharing with everyone. I would love to hear some of the responses that you receive.

  2. The families of Evanston are truly lucky to have dedicated teachers who put such insight and passion into embracing literacy!