September Letter to My Students

by teachingcognitively

late summer sun

The last day of 6 am yoga at Owen Park where the Sun rose as we practiced.

summer sun

July 30th 6 am yoga before we started practicing the Sun was already up.


Dear Students,

I spend a lot of my summer thinking about how to start the year.  I believe “you never get a second change to make a first impression”. Despite all that “stuff” we have to go over; the syllabus, the projects I am excited for, homework, grading and class expectations, I want to start with what is most important.  Although all that “stuff” is important it is not the MOST important thing. Science is super important it is not the MOST important thing.  I am a science teacher but more accurately I teach high-school students, science.  The high-school student part comes first.

The first thing we will do this year is to think about who we are at whatever time of day you read this September 8, 2015 or whatever day you read this after that.  We will not be the same people next week, next month or at the end of this year but who were are right now is important.  You will all have the chance to share with me individually and I will share with you all.  We will come back to these thoughts about who we are at the end of summer throughout the school year.  Hopefully they can enlighten us and help us grow in thoughtful ways.

I’ve had a wonderful summer, I did not accomplish one thing that I set out to but it was a wonderful summer. My only goal this summer was to tile the backsplash in my kitchen. It took me about 5 weeks just to decide on the tile to order and it will not arrive for 7 more weeks so I gave up on that.

What I did accomplish was even more important.   I spent a lot of time with my four year old son.  I went to the beach a lot, mostly Tashmoo but also at Philbin and Menemsha Pond.  Four year olds are very good at “stopping to smell the roses.”  My son loves to observe, ask questions and have “funtastic days”.  He is loud and enthusiastic.  He is inspiring.  We collected shells, we dissected a fish, we jumped in waves and dunked with his new snorkel and goggles.

I did yoga at 6 am two times a week on the dock at Owen Park. Throughout the summer the light changed and on the last day I watched the Sun rise during Sun salutations.  I walked my dog in the woods and went swimming with her almost everyday.

In not accomplishing my goals I actually succeeded in areas I did not plan on.  I witnessed how the sunset changes.  I got great at finding hermit crabs and spotting simple, pretty things that end up making good Instagram pictures.

Its a big deal for me not to accomplish things. I like “to do” lists and I like getting things done however in the last 2 years I have worked on trying not to do so much.  This summer was a success.  I had time to think.  I rode the ferry yesterday, sat on the top deck and observed without looking at my phone (for most of the boat ride).

My lack of accomplishing goals seems like an odd way to start a school year but it is not by accident.  My summer has taught me that setting goals to accomplish may be less effective and important than having an idea of how we would like to be.  That way of being may help us eventually accomplish goals (or not) but hopefully will make us happier people.  Enjoying life may also seem like a paradox on the first day of school but you should all know this is where I will live this year; in the thoughts that seem to contradict each other, embracing the good and the bad and the muddy in between, the power of our thoughts to make whatever situation we are in good or bad and acknowledging that the situation can change with our thoughts.

So I encourage you to remind me of some ways of being I would like to maintain from my summer; taking deep breaths before speaking, observing others and myself without judgement and embracing stillness and occurrence.

A reading by Pema Chodron titled “Not Preferring Samsara or Nirvana” has helped me with these things and I hope I keep them with me throughout the year.  A quote from that reading says it best:

“We can stop thinking that good practice is when it’s smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it’s rough and dark.  If we can hold it all in our hearts, then we can make a proper cup of tea”.

Here is to a year filled with proper cups of tea.


Ms. Cotton/Anna