By Camille Jones, 2017 WA State Teacher of the Year
Dear President Trump,
I am not supposed to have favorite students, and I don’t, most of the time. My favorite part about teaching is learning to see what makes each of my students special and unique. But, I will say, one little boy has burrowed his way especially close to my heart over the past three years. The best way I can describe him would be to say that he is curious, caring, and just a bit mischievous. He has hopeful eyes and a bright smile. He warms up every room he enters.
In Kindergarten, I overheard him exclaim to his team, “No, guys, not that idea! Mrs. Jones wants us to be creative!” I’ll never forget the way his voice squeaked when he said creative. I melted on the spot.
He was the first student I saw after I was named Washington State Teacher of the Year last September. I’ll never forget that moment either. He looked at me and asked if I would get to meet the President. I said yes, and he quickly replied,
“I hope you don’t meet Donald Trump. He’s going to kick me out of the country!”
In that moment, my heart cracked a little, but the election was months away. I brushed off a twinge of worry, and we went back to reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Soon we were both laughing again, our cares forgotten.
Then, you won. Instantly I again heard his voice in my head. Many of the people who love me the most, who taught me what’s right and how to care about others, they all voted for you. I wanted to hope in you because they believed in you. I tried to brush away my worry as it returned, but it was more difficult. Those eight-year-old eyes started keeping me up at night.
In April, I stood with my friend Ricky, Illinois Teacher of the Year, when we visited you in the Oval Office. He asked you to take care of our DACA kids. You promised him that you would. I took that promise for myself and for that squeaky little voice in my head.
As soon as I saw the headlines reporting your intention to end DACA, my head went back to that moment in the White House. Where went my heart? To this little boy, to the other undocumented children in my classroom, and to the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers around the country. I do not understand this decision.
I also cannot understand the timing. The school year has just begun, and teachers are barely starting to show our students that we deserve their trust. To assure each one that they are safe and respected in our classrooms. My job is to push students out of their comfort zones, to teach them to embrace risks and challenges at school. How can I do any of that when their minds are full of the risks and challenges they bring with them to school?
In my STEAM Lab, I help students see that they can reach for many different dreams in life. We engineer, experiment, and create. I’m urgently preparing them to be our country’s leading problem solvers, business leaders, innovators, and citizens.
America is their home, and they have the potential to make it great.
What will I say to this little boy when I see him tomorrow? He’s in third grade now; a critical year. This year’s success or failure has the power to write so much of his future. I know he’s already carried this anxiety for a year now. How much learning has been lost to fear? How much more is yet to come?
I am not a politician or an immigration expert. I am a teacher. I am the keeper of the children–their silly faces, their squeaky voices, their inspiring stories. I stand in front of them every day, helping them make sense of a world they do not understand, one that they did not choose. If I can’t make sense of this, how will they?
Mr. President, please. Protect our DACA kids.
With heartache and hope,
2017 WA State Teacher of the Year
Camille Jones teaches Kindergarten to 3rd grade STEAM Schoolwide Enrichment & Gifted Education in the Central WA farm town where she grew up. She is the 2017 Washington State Teacher of the Year.