An Open Letter to My First Seniors, the Class of 2017

​This post/letter is dedicated to the Class of 2017.


Dear Class of 2017,


As you (my seniors) know, I am a first-year teacher. Your class occupies a lot of “firsts” in my career and life. You are my first group of students (at least as a paid teacher) and the first class of seniors I am graduating. As such, you hold a very special place in my teaching career and my heart.


As much of a cliché this is, I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in our society and community. I wanted to teach social science to show why being a part of a society/community matters and why democracy matters within it. No matter what careers you choose for yourself, you are still part of a community. Remember at the beginning of the year when we did an icebreaker activity where each of you had a different job, but had to solve a common goal together? That activity is meant to show you just that idea.


Also, you are our future. If you don’t like the world we live in today, then it is up to you to step up and shape it in the way you desire. I’ve compared democracy to a car before. Nothing runs forever without maintenance. It needs a fine-tuning from time to time. If you are disconnected from our society, then you may find yourself vulnerable to oppression and ignorance.


When I did my student teaching the year before, I taught only World History to sophomores with no exposure to any seniors. Fast forward to July 2016 when I was offered a position in San Jose, I was told I would be teaching three classes of Government/Economics to seniors. I’ve always wanted to teach Government/Economics. Awesome. However, at the same time, it was intimidating. I thought to myself, “Holy crap. Are they going to eat me alive when they find out I’m a first-year teacher? Will they challenge me every step of the way? Especially when they also find out I am more or less just 10 years older than them? Will they respect me (even though I am largely in the school of thought that respect has to be earned, not demanded)? Will they say what I am doing in the classroom be too childish for them?” I didn’t have this fear with the sophomores. The age group is just different.


Then of course when I arrived, I heard how I replaced the previous teacher, Sheridan. Great. Now add these to the list, “What happened to Sheridan??? Who the hell is Chang? Why do I have this new teacher??? I want Sheridan!!!”


During the first week of school, I had a few students transferring out. I thought, “These students must be transferring out because they don’t trust a new teacher messing up their senior year…” In reality, it was because of schedule changes and adjustments. Every day I wonder how my classes would’ve been different had those students stayed.


As we got to know each other, the nervousness gradually disappeared. I was fortunate enough to get to know, bond, and create pretty awesome memories with all of you throughout the year. Some of you even confided in me and/or sought me out as a pseudo-therapist. Sometimes I wished I had started my career earlier so I could have seen all of you grow from clueless freshmen to mature(?) seniors.


I am not just an educator; I am also a lifelong learner. I’m not a good teacher, but I try my best to continue to improve myself. I learned a lot about what it means to be an educator and a human being from all of you. For that, I am very grateful. We are all lifelong learners. Acknowledge that and you will go far.


I want to genuinely say that I like every single one of you, even if you might think, “Chang doesn’t like me. He’s always out to get me.” There was not a single student I didn’t like. Here are some words I would like to leave to each period and other seniors:


Period 1, I call you my “Zombie Class” because we start every class at 7:15AM. Rarely did we ever have a full class when school started. It’d be surprising if we were able to start on time with 2/3s of the class present. Regardless of how tired you are in the morning, you are always ready to come into the classroom to learn. Some very interesting ideas came out of this class and those ideas are being applied to my future curriculum.


Period 3, the “Rowdy Class.” Your class had so much energy that I wished I had figured out better ways to utilize that energy. Some of the most enjoyable discussions came out of this class because all of you had such strong views on certain issues. Despite this, many of you enter the class with an open mind. I highly appreciate that.


Period 5, I think you know this already; you’re the “Smart Ass Class.” This class is just simply filled with a bunch of sarcastic smart asses and those who are not afraid to share their thoughts. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a smart ass myself. My faculty advisor during my teacher education made that comment about me during my observations. It’s that reason why I like Period 5. You can get rowdy just like Period 3. I noticed that whenever I have to say something I can see it in your faces that you genuinely want to listen and learn what I have to share. This class also had some of the most engaged students and the loudest.


Break and After School Students, most of you didn’t even have me as a teacher. A few of you did, but ended up transferring out. Later on in the year, my classroom attracted seniors I don’t have students during break and even after school. Some of you come in because my own seniors, your friends, happen to be there. Others just randomly showed up and stayed. This became what a parent would call my “extended break” family. In fact, I ended up developing a stronger relationship with some of you than some of those I have in my class, especially those I assisted with their college applications. Like those who transferred out, I wonder how my classes would have been different if you were in my class.


Now there isn’t one period that Chang favors more than the other. Each class is unique and each of them has given me different enjoyable experiences. Every morning when I head to school, I am always pumped to see you in my classroom. Since I started my career as an educator, there hasn’t been a day where I woke up and thought, “Ugh…I have to go to school/work today.” I put in more hours into this career than my previous job and I have no complaints.


Now let me start concluding this or else this open letter will never end.


Thank you for getting through the entire school year with a first-year teacher. Thank you for all the lessons I learned from you. Thank you for filling my first year of teaching with countless positive memories. And thank you for tolerating all the ridiculous things I say, like replacing the word “change” with “Chang” all the time. This definitely did rub off on quite a few of you. In the class evaluations, at least 20% of you wrote some sort of Chang pun. Thank you for helping me gain the recognition as the school’s Social Science Teacher of the Year. I don’t feel like I deserve it, especially as a first year. To repay for the recognition, I promise to continue to work hard for our school and the students.


You’re a great class and I will miss all of you. No, I’m not going to cry (Period 5). I wish you all the best. Go out there into the world and explore. Create your own adventures. I don’t like saying “good-byes” since that assumes we’ll never cross paths again. I prefer “see you later.” So…see you later! Until then, keep Chang-ing it and have a great summer. And most importantly, Chang the world! Keep me posted!


Sincerely,

Mr. J. Chang


P.S.

I just want to leave 10 pieces of advice (not in any particular order of importance) for you:

  1. Acknowledge and embrace lifelong learning. You will grow more mature and wiser.

  2. See the world. Expose yourself to other cultures. We’re not alone in this world. Pick up a foreign language if you can.

  3. Pick up a book and read.

  4. “The quality of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

  5. Life has its ups and downs. Get up from the downs, learn from them, and then continue moving forward. If you fall down and don’t get up, you will always be stepped on.

  6. Life is short. Have fun, but know when to get serious. For those of you going to school, calculate how much each class you attend costs. This will make you think twice about ditching.

  7. Politics is boring and complicated, but it matters. Inform yourself and be active in our democracy unless you are fine with giving into authoritarianism. You want to be governed, not ruled. Nationalism is not the same as patriotism. Be a patriot, not a nationalist.

  8. Network. Build meaningful relationships, not superficial ones.

  9. Live within your own means. Pay yourself first.

  10. Use credit cards wisely. Always pay it off in full every month. Do NOT spend money you do not have!

P.P.S.

​I started writing this letter the day after your graduation, but finished this on my flight to South Korea for my month-long trip. Life gets busy. If you’re interested in following my Chang-ventures, whether in my travels or in the classroom, and/or Chang Thoughts overall, please do sign up for email updates. All of you have received my contact information, so you can also add me on social media if you haven’t yet.

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