ScreenHunter_183 Feb. 01 08.22

Dear A+ Student

Sandy Merz Current Affairs, Education, Life in the Classroom, Parent Involvment, Social Issues

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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


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.

Comments 6

  1. Jen R

    Thank you for sharing this letter. You hit on an interesting issue with students who perform high in their classes and on tests. You posed very reflective questions to this student. I am curious to see if they have changed at all or are more aware of how their actions influence how others see them as academic leaders.

  2. Pnwgirl98118

    This post made me see red. It is clear that this was in no way an attempt to reach out and support a student in her growth – this was a male teacher feeling threatened by a bright, capable, confident and assertive young woman.

    What was her crime here? She interrupted you twice, then skipped class one period and lied about it? Oh horrors… Surely none of your other students are engaged in anything resembling this level of criminal behavior. For you to go to the extreme length of writing a note home (and then posting it online??) is way over the line.

    After reading your other post about another capable young woman who “failed” to do her best when making a toy car for your class, I’m even more sure that you need to do some deep soul-searching before you attempt to mold our next generation of young women. We need bold, assertive, confident young women who will be our next CEOs, legislators, and community leaders.

    If your fragile ego doesn’t allow you to support them, then at least get out of their way.

    1. Donnie Lee

      What was bad about the letter? Because he’s male, he can’t speak to her in a direct manner? In what world is it acceptable manners for any child to interrupt an adult or a teacher? At least he is addressing these issues in a safe environment. When this student enters the real world, the real world won’t be as caring. I agree with you about needing strong, bold women. But I think we need all our students to be responsible, honest, and respectful.

      1. Pnwgirl98118

        Really, Donnie? This didn’t seem like a teensy bit of an overreaction to you? No one said interruptions were okay, but if Sandy pens an angry tirade (and sends it home with the student, and also posts it online) every time a student interrupts, I’m concerned about his blood pressure. And if it was only this one time that he responded this way, he needs to examine why he felt it necessary to choose a bright, bold young woman to shame. We don’t have all the facts here and I’m not claiming we do, but the smugness of this letter made me wonder whether he truly believes he’s acting in the best interest of the student… Or if there’s an axe to grind.

        1. Donnie Lee

          I do not see the letter the same way you do. I do not see any anger from him at all. I see concern for a student that could have doors shut to them because of how they are being perceived. In the letter, he compliments the student tremendously. Since he shared it online, he had to change it significantly to protect student identity. And I would assume there were much more situations that he did not mention in the letter. He basically gave the student his opinion based on what he saw and asked her to reflect on that. No way do I see this as him shaming her but as a challenge for her to be better than she is.

  3. Sandy Merz

    The letter had the full, unconditional support of the five female teachers on my team (I’m the only male) and the student’s PE teacher (female) and both counselors (one male and one female). All of them had had similar interactions with “Estrella,” But none of them had sought to address it directly with her. The student’s mother supported me.The mother told me that she was naturally defensive but ended up understanding and supporting my points – she told me she asked her daughter if she wanted to talk me about how things could change, but “Estrella” said, “No, I’m going to show him.” Donnie, my colleagues, and the student’s mother, saw that the letter was cautionary – that “Estrella” could be setting herself up to have doors closed. I’m sometimes asked to write letters of recommendation and expect that since schools or programs have their grades, they’re looking for information beyond the grades. Currently, there are lots of female students, whose grades might not be as high as “Estrella’s” but who contribute much more to the community who I would recommend before I would recommend her. She stayed out of class for three days after the letter, then gave me the silent treatment for several days, and since the ice thawed has shown some leadership – both in behavior and academics – developing a memory aid that she shared with the class about how to remember some concepts we were covering. The aide was so good I had students recreate it as part of their quarter final. We’re not perfect, but there is progress, and if I were asked to write a letter I could now refer to her ability to reflect, grow, and make a contribution – none of which I could have before.

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