Hopes, Dreams, and Prayers for our Teachers

August 18, 2023

We said goodbye to Dawson last week. He packed his car and drove off to Colorado for the start of his junior year. It seems so early, yet the new school year is starting across the nation. My youngest nephew, who is a lovable and precocious rascal, just began kindergarten this week. I hope his teacher actually finds some time to teach the class, as my nephew has a lot to share with everyone.

What happened to going back to school after Labor Day? Well, I’ll tell you. If California ruled the world, all colleges would be on the quarter system, starting in late September and ending in mid-June. And our K-12 schools would follow suit. Our best weather comes in August and September, and it’s no fun to be in a classroom during the best summer weather.

But contrary to popular belief, we Californians don’t rule the world. (Heck – we barely have a college sports conference any more. Farewell, Pac-12, how I will miss thee.) So most California schools go along with the nation, where AP tests take place in May, college admissions offices expect the first semester to end in December, summer opportunities often start in early June, and school starts in mid-August.

That being said, the new academic year is upon us. Jill will be back teaching again next week, and she’s ready. Parents are ready, too. We were at Disneyland this week (I have gone way too many times this year), and we ran into a couple who shared their secret tradition – they dropped off their two elementary-school-aged children on their first day of school, then, without ever telling the kids, the parents spent a glorious day at Disneyland. So sinister, yet so wonderful. It’s the most hilarious back-to-school thing I’ve seen since the old Staples commercial.

So parents are clearly excited for this time of year. Most students are looking forward to starting again, too – school is one of the few life activities where, in many ways, you start with a clean slate each year – new notebooks, new pencils and pens, new classes, a new teacher (or six, or seven), and new resolutions. It can be a time of great hope. And, for most of the teachers I know, that same fresh start brings a great deal of excitement. But, the new year also brings some nervousness and worry. What challenges will the new group of students bring? What changes will this school year bring? What will they face this year that they have never encountered before?

One of my teacher friends asked for my prayers as he started his school year. This friend is a GREAT teacher who, to the rest of the world, hardly seems to need anyone else’s assistance. He is respected and loved by almost all who know him. But that’s the thing that great teachers know.  The challenges that each new school year brings can be monumental. Teachers are expected to go far beyond the one size fits all teaching that I experienced in high school. Teachers need to seek out multiple ways to help each student succeed, while holding high standards for all. And teachers are expected to impart not just knowledge, but skills that can help a student to learn and succeed. While my best teachers did that, it is an expectation for all now. Simply put, teaching is more complicated than ever. Student needs are more diverse than ever. So yes, my friend is wise to ask for our prayers. Here are some of my prayers, hopes, and dreams for teachers, and all of those who support them, as they start the 2023-24 school year.

  • May you be patient and persistent enough to discover the motivations and gifts of each of your students. 
  • May every day be a great day. Students deserve the best version of you each and every hour of each and every day. May you have the energy and strength to make each day as special as the first day of school for each of your students.
  • May you find balance in your life. May that balance allow you enough hours to be the teacher your students deserve, the family member and friend your loved ones rely on, and the individual who takes care of your own physical and mental health. (The 8:00 to 3:00 school day is a myth – there are hours of planning, grading, collaborating, and worrying that happen before and after those hours, and on weekends, and during school breaks, that are necessary for teachers to be at their best from 8:00 to 3:00 – but teachers also need to put on their own oxygen masks first.) 
  • May you have the wisdom, strength, and resources you need. There are so many  obstacles that can impede students’ learning: difficult home situations, learning disabilities, hunger, a lack of confidence, hopelessness, a history of failure. It takes skill and insight to discern the problem, and then a good bit of resourcefulness to get around those issues and make the learning happen.  
  • May your village be strong. Instructional assistants, special education professionals, counselors, administrators, and so many more share in a teacher’s love and care for students and are vital to our collective educational purpose. To those people–without whom teachers couldn’t do their jobs–this post is for all of you as well.
  • May you and your students feel safe from the outside world. May you never have to live through the scenarios behind the safety drills you work on – including lockdown drills and shelter-in-place drills. And thank you for being as ready as anybody can be to support students in emergencies. May this year be free of the safety incursions that force teachers to be heroes in life-or-death situations, so they can focus on being the day-to-day heroes they already are.
  • May your teaching year be insulated from all of the national debates about education. As I have written before, most of the political discussions about teaching refer to situations I have rarely if ever seen in classrooms. Overwhelmingly, the thousands of teachers I know are concerned only with creating kind and respectful environments and helping their students develop academic and interpersonal skills and habits that will help them to be successful in this world. 
  • And may your teaching year be full of joy and laughter. The best teachers make their classrooms a joyful place for students to be, filled with celebrations, silliness, stories from students, curiosity, and all the things that create smiles, wonder, and light in our classrooms.

May it be a wonderful year for all of our teachers, those who support them, and the students we all serve.

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  1. Michelle Krzmarzick says:

    This hits right at every place, Mike. I think it’s never been more challenging to be an educator, and our kids have never needed us more. Here’s to a fabulous start to 2023-2024!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, Michelle! I hope it’s a great year for Meadows and MBUSD!

  2. Siugen Constanza says:

    Dear Mike,

    Thank you so much for this beautiful prayer letter. You covered everything as I was talking to a new principal about the new challenges for not only teachers but for everyone who works in the education systems. And how important is to be able to have Wellness Centers with therapists, social workers and counselors in all TK thru 12th grade in each schools.

    As some districts already doing that in their schools. Even at Los Ángeles County libraries, they are hiring social workers to work in the libraries to provide resources for people.

    So teachers can really focus in teaching and help students to learn. Specially now that our reading and math scores are low. Teachers can feel supported by these Wellness Centers and know that is a group of professionals helping the parents and students to find the resources they need.

    Teachers and administration can feel confortable referring the students to the Wellness center to get help, even for students to be able to walk in, have their own space when they feel different emotions, suffering from depression, having a panic attack, they are hungry because the parents lost their jobs, etc or just need a safe space because they just having a bad day!

    I really enjoy your letters, I wish Jill and you a great school year and by the way Happy Anniversary!


    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks so much, Siugen. Working with you was always wonderful, as you had your pulse on all students, and helped to guide me so we better served those who most needed our help. You are an incredible leader, and I am grateful for all you are doing around public education. Have a great school year!

  3. Wayne F Reel says:

    Beautifully and fully expressed, Mike.
    I most appreciate teachers who teach the whole child, who identify and built on each child’s strengths , who love their kids just as they are.

    No matter how much I’ve given my students, my students and their families have given back so much more. I have learned so much from these folks.

    My prayer is that teachers can enlarge the curriculum beyond its present guidelines, and realize that teaching is a sacred trust.
    We teach who we are, as well as what we need to learn.

    For students, I pray they will enjoy the learning process and arrive at the end of each year, with an enhanced sense of wonder and a spirit that is still intact.

    Well-done, Mike. You are one of the best of the best.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, Wayne. I love your comments. We are at our best when we adjust our plans to reflect what we have learned from our students. Thanks for all your years of care, love, and silliness. It’s a winning combination.

  4. Susan Samarge-Powell says:

    As we were helping some teachers set up this week, I got my typical annual flutter of excitement about the possibilities to come. And then came the dread remembering all the issues that we so often encounter these days. So I genuinely appreciate your letter and prayers – you made me tear up. Wishing your whole family a wonderful start to the school year!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      The dread is different as a teacher and as a principal. As a teacher, it’s how you will react to whatever situation comes your way. As a principal, it’s asking yourself, “What did I miss that could hamper the opening of school?” We want that first day to be flawless. But as in most things, nothing is perfect, roll with the changes, forgive yourself, and roll up your sleeves and make it work. Best of luck this year!

  5. Sylvia Hill says:

    Mike what a beautiful prayer, you hit every area teachers face! Even though I’m retired, I too prayed, not just for returning students, but for the teachers who must bear the weight of so much during the school year! I remember the first day jitters, getting to know the families, preparing my classroom and just adjusting to school time again! My heart go out to teachers everywhere, they have so much to bear! I’m sending your prayer to my teacher friends who are still fighting the good fight!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Always good to hear from you, Sylvia. Thank you for your kind words and thanks for sharing the post.

  6. Thanks Mike!! I will defiantly share this with Holly!!!

  7. Dan Wren says:

    First and foremost Hapy Anniversary! Second, didn’t school start after Labor Day when we were children?

  8. Erica Diaz says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing, Dr. Matthews.

  9. Marla Zaslansky says:

    Hi Mike,
    It’s been a while! I thoroughly enjoy your posts and always look forward to the next one. Thank you!

    I am not sure you have watched the latest Ted talk by Sal Kahn about AI, education, and teaching. If not I highly recommend it and I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

    I hope all is well and you continue to enjoy this new phase of your life.
    All the best,

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Marla – Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s nice to stay in touch this way. I’ll check out the Sal Kahn TED talk. If I recall correctly, you were one of the people who introduced me to TED talks. And Taylor Swift.

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