Dear A+ Student

ScreenHunter_183 Feb. 01 08.22

The following is based on an actual letter I gave to a student. I’ve changed the names and particulars to protect identities.

Dear Estrella,

I’m writing because frankly I think that if we had this conversation in person you would be reactive instead of reflective. My hope is that you do take some time and reflect on what I have to say, even though it is quite critical and direct. I know it might hurt your feelings, make you angry, or both, but to move to the next level I think you need to consider this letter very seriously.

Your work ethic and academic work in my classes are superior. You complete every assignment on time. No one does more more work than you. You have an A+ in both 6th and 7th periods.

By achieving academically and by having an assertive personality (which is a good thing), you put yourself in the spotlight. You draw a lot of attention to yourself.

High achievers who get a lot of attention face a choice. Some see their achievement with humility and feel a responsibility to use their gifts to better themselves and their communities.

Others use their gifts to put themselves above others.

Consider these recent examples of conflicts that you and I have had and ask yourself what choice you appear to be making:

  • In class, an adult came in and asked me a question. You cut in an answered for me.
  • A couple of days later a student was late and was talking to me about it. You cut in and told her it didn’t count for some reason or the other.
  • Just the other day in 6th period I let some students go practice for their orchestra concert. You asked to see Ms. Ruelas and I said yes. When I went to check on the orchestra students I found you hanging out by the elevator with some friends. I asked why you hadn’t gone to see Ms. Ruelas. You said it was because she was in the computer lab. “Then go to the lab,” I said. I went back to class for the last 10 minutes or so and assumed you had gone to see her. You came late to 7th period with Ms. Ruelas and she said you had been with her. But later, when I asked her, she said you had never shown up during 6th at all. So it seems that you never went to the lab and decided it was ok to hang out outside until the end of 6th, see her in her room at the beginning of 7th, and get her to come and excuse the tardy.

I have confronted you and have said that your role as a student doesn’t include class management or speaking for me when another professional asks me a question. It certainly doesn’t include manipulating teachers like you did with Ms. Ruelas and me.

I’ve told you that you act as if your status as a top student gives you license to choose which instructions and rules you’ll follow.

You usually argue that that’s not the case or express anger or hurt in some other way. What you don’t seem to do is consider the merit of what I’m saying.

Please show this letter to your folks and I invite you and them to feel free to discuss it with me as much as you all would like. I’d also encourage you to ask other teachers, counselors, or administrators if they would agree with my assessment.

Let me end with one simple question: You will be remembered; what do you want to be remembered for?

Mr. Merz


Sandy Merz

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I’ve moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I’m a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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