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Proud of You

I am so proud of you.

My last semester of college, I was a student teacher at an elementary school. My first placement was with precious second graders. They were loving and kind and they LOVED school. It was so fun to be a part of their classroom. My second placement was with fifth graders. They rotated classes, so there were 86 of them and I taught science to every single one. They were challenging. Have you ever been made to feel “uncool” by a fifth grader? It stings! They can be brutal! But they loved me anyway, and I fought to love them.

I know you aren't supposed to pick favorites, but my home room class was my favorite. They were cheerful and interactive and focused. They loved learning from me, and I loved learning from them.

One student in particular, I'll call Ashley. Ashley was a latchkey kid. Her parents were separated and her dad worked late, so she was in charge of getting herself and her little brother home from school. She carried her keys on her backpack, and every time I saw them, they made me a little sad. She was so very grown up for 11, and I wished she didn't have to be.
One Monday, Ashley came into our class and announced that she and her brother had stayed alone in their apartment all weekend, since her dad had driven a few towns over to pick up his girlfriend. Ashley was full of tall tales, so we were never quite sure what we could believe, but that struck me. To be 11, in her home alone, for two days? She must have been terrified.

Ashley struggled in class, and was far more interested in chatting with her friends than learning science. I felt like I was constantly saying her name or standing next to her desk so she would stop talking.

Through my time in her classroom, Ashley was in trouble several times: kissing boys on the playground, cheating on tests, even lying to teachers. She was tough to love, especially when she lied to me about silly things like missing pencils and papers that didn't get signed by her dad. But, at the end of my time with my fifth graders, I stood at the front of the class and I told them, “I love you. I am so thankful that I got to learn from you and teach you this semester. You are wonderful and I can't wait to see who you become. I am proud of each of you.”

Girls were sniffling and I got lots of hugs and handmade cards as the bell rang and the students shuffled out the door. Ashley hung back and gave me one more hug. “I bet you're not proud of me,” she whispered as I hugged her tight. I started to cry.

“You, I am proud of most of all,” I told her. “What you do is not important. It's who you are that makes me proud. You are kind and joyful and funny and so very smart. I am proud of who you are and who you are becoming. You are a remarkable young lady, and I'm excited to see you grow up.”

I cried as Ashley left, and I think about her often. She needs someone to love her and speak into her life. I wish I could do that for her, and I hope someone does so she achieves all she is capable of.

So please don't forget: someone is proud of you. Even if it's just me. I am so proud of you. I am so glad you were born, exactly as you are. Your smile, your joy, your smarts, your thoughts, your wit, your laugh, your passion. I am so proud of who you are and who you are becoming. I hope you are changing and growing. I hope you are learning and creating.

I am proud that you have chosen life today. I am proud that you are breathing and speaking and walking around. I'm proud of you for getting out of bed and putting clothes on. If you haven't gotten out of bed or put clothes on, I'm still proud of you for taking good care of yourself.

Because my pride in you, my joy in who you are, comes from my heart for you. I want you to be the best YOU you can be. I want you to carefully and tenderly care for yourself, cultivating the best self you can muster. Sometimes the best self you can muster might be getting out of bed and facing the world. Sometimes the best self you can muster has eyeshadow that coordinates with her outfit and creates something beautiful to share with the world.

Whatever you've got today, I am proud of you for that.

I love you. I really do. And I'm so proud of who you are.

With all my love,

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