A guest post from 7th grade teacher Amber McMath.

To the Student Who Stole My Money and Vandalized Our Rooms,

You want everyone to think you’re a mean ole tough guy, a devious troublemaker, a kid with nothing to lose. I’m impressed you’re able to keep up that reputation. Because what you really are is a soft-hearted fun-loving reader. In secret you tear through books from our classroom library faster than I can recommend them. You hoard a few in your backpack and escape to those far off places when your home is no place I’d ever wish a child be. Those books bring more to you than I ever can.

Alas, even brilliant readers make stupid choices. When the opportunity presented itself, you stole, wrecked and vandalized the one safe place in your life. And you got caught.

I know you thought little of me while you served your suspension. But I thought much of you. I wrestled with how to respond to this behavior. It felt like such a personal attack. What did I ever do except feed you amazing stories, parent you through tough social interactions and show extra measures of grace when you pushed the line? How then do I go on with business as usual?

With a book.

Our time apart allowed me to get you a book. I was privileged to be at a book signing by Dan Gemeinhart. Earlier in the year you read Scar Island and reported how “cool” it was. How you loved the boys’ story. So I bought a copy of Scar Island and had the author sign it for you.

“Never give up!” he wrote.

I presented it to you on your first day back in the classroom. This book is yours, I emphasized. Don’t let anyone borrow it. Keep it forever and remember what Dan said. You smiled and said you would.

Book ownership is huge. Huge for the kid who seemingly has it all with his designer clothes and exotic spring break vacation. Huge for the kid who is kept warm with a coat the teachers chipped in to get him. It doesn’t matter who you are, when someone gives you a book that is yours to keep forever, it means something.

The time I took struggling over what book would be a perfect fit. The long line I stood in. The money I dished out. That means I love you and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. That means I believe in second chances.’

It’s the same reason every student signs the back of one of my classroom library books when they finish it. They now own a piece of it. It’s the same reason I write grants for us to go to the local bookstore and purchase a book at the end of the year. It’s the same reason we write our own children’s books and give them to the neighboring elementary school. There will never be enough books in the world to say all the things we need to say!

You still act like a toot some days, but so goes the fortunes of seventh grade boys. Another one of your teacher’s told me today she feels like you’re very close to going permanently down the wrong path. I know one signed book won’t stop that. But what that one book from me to you means…maybe that will at least make some small difference. Never give up! I sure won’t.


Your Reading Teacher

About the Author:

Amber McMath Headshot

Amber McMath gets a little crazier each day she spends with her seventh grade readers and writers in Owasso, OK. She is kept sane by her loving husband and adorable son. Before serving in Oklahoma she taught in Mali, West Africa. You can find a whole slew of stuff she shares for language arts teachers at www.imthatteacher.com. Follow her on twitter @mrsmcreading.