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The Most Important Final I Have Ever Given: Project 180, Day 178

Last fall before saying anything to my new group of kids, I began handing out wooden A’s that I had made over the summer. Along with the A, I gave and read to them a letter.

Dear Learners:

Welcome to Honors English 10. I am beyond excited to begin and share this journey with you. And while I am not certain about all that we will encounter and experience along our way–or even where we will land at our journey’s end, I am certain that it will be unlike anything we have experienced in the past.

As you entered the room today, I handed you a wooden letter A. It is my gift to you. It is your grade for the year. No, I did not misspeak, I am giving you an A…for the entire year. It is yours to keep. I will not take it back. Promise. Cross my heart.

But, my young adventurers, take heed. For, after all, what I handed you is just what it appears to be: a wooden letter A. It is nothing. Oh, don’t worry. I am not going back on my promise. I will type the A into your transcript at the end of each semester, but even that is merely a digital character, a mark on a screen. It, too, in reality, is nothing. So, before you sit back and relax with your gift and chalk me up as your “best teacher ever,” consider the following.

In truth, I gave you nothing, but I did that, young traveler, to give you everything. When I handed that A to you as you came aboard today, I really gave you ownership. I gave you the keys to your learning. I gave you choice; I gave you freedom. I gave you responsibility. And that is the essence. In the end, young friend, you are responsible for your learning. I cannot give it to you. In this arrangement that we find ourselves, I am responsible for providing opportunity and support, and I can and will give that freely and abundantly, but I am not responsible for your learning. You are. This reflects, then, the terms of our agreement for our journey.

So, we set out. 180 days from now we will set anchor in some unknown harbor. But before we set sail, pick up your A. Look at it. Feel it. Right now it is an empty gesture, a simple symbol. It won’t mean anything until you give it meaning. Months from now, as we look back on the calm and storm of our journey, and you hold this symbol in your hand, what will it mean then? I can’t wait to hear about your discovery. Thanks for letting me join you. I am honored.

Welcome aboard,


Today and tomorrow (we have a block schedule for finals), I, wooden A in hand, will read the letter again. And then, I will ask the kids to briefly pen their discoveries. It will be their final.

Yesterday, Abby got the jump on me.

She had stopped by earlier in the morning, and though she obviously had something on her mind, there were two other teachers in the room, and so, she told me it could wait. Later, in 2nd period when I had her in class, I asked her about it, and she looked around the room full of students, and again, she told me it could wait. Day got on. I got busy. I forgot about it.

After school. Abby, backpack in hand, looking a little anxious entered my room, stopping before she got to me to dig something out of her backpack. It was an A. A black wooden A. And she approached my desk, stopping in front of me, taking a deep breath.

“Sy, I have carried this in my backpack all year. And I want to give it back to you now because I feel like I have earned it.”

“You don’t want to keep it?” I asked.

“No, I’m good. I want you to have it back.”

“You, know,” I continued, “I was thinking about you the other day, thinking about your year, and how you turned it around at the midpoint, and how strongly you’ve ended the year. I agree. You have earned it. I am so proud of you.”

We high-fived, and she left. And as I sat there, A still in hand, I wondered why she didn’t want to keep it. It was a gift, handcrafted. Admittedly, I was a little hurt. Until. Until, I reviewed the letter this morning and remembered. It was nothing. It was an empty gesture, a simple symbol. She didn’t need IT, for it was never “it” to begin with; it was her. It was her all along. What a discovery.

Happy Wednesday, all.



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