To My First Class of 5th Graders Who Graduate This Month

Dear Alicia, Andres, Angel, Anthony, Austin, Charlie, Cianni, Collin, Dante, Destanye, Gutania, Jennifer, Jonah, Juan, Justis, Kasarah, Lara, Latasha, Maddi, Makenly, Maren, Marisa, Marissa, Mark, Nick, Peyton, Sidney, Susana, and certainly not least, Taryn,

Hi!!! It's your 5th grade teacher! Didn't expect to hear from me after all these years, did you?

You've had many a teacher since your 5th grade year. I wonder if anything sticks out in your mind from the one we spent together. I'll tell you what I remember.

I remember going out to greet you, all lined up for our first day of school together. Rumor had it there was a new fifth grade teacher, but no one knew anything about her. I remember the look of joy in your faces when you saw that I was 24 and beaming in my excitement to meet you.

Even though their first encounter with my last name is difficult for most people, you each learned to say it flawlessly. You went home and taught your parents and brothers and sisters how to say it, and if anyone called me anything other than Mrs. Co-YA-do, I loved hearing you defensively correct them, even though it was my job afterwards to remind you to be polite.

I remember the week we learned about writing letters to the editor. Do you remember how Peyton's letter generated a furious discussion on the online comment boards? A couple more of you had your letters published in the days that followed.

Do you remember the day the mayor came to class in his fancy black and green pinstripe suit? He brought the chief of police with him because I was concerned about the negative attitude many of the boys in our class had toward police officers. You listened so respectfully as they explained their roles and then answered your questions and concerns. And then you treated them like rock stars at the end, having them autograph numerous scraps of paper and in some cases your arm.

Do you remember Red Ribbon Week and how along with all the other activities the PTA had going, I gave you a passionate presentation on how you were never to do drugs? I told you how drugs had damaged the lives of people I knew. I told you how my classmates and I had all worn the red ribbons when we were kids. But that as we got older, there were people and circumstances that disguised drugs as not harmful but fun, and some of my classmates had done them anyway. I fiercely pointed my finger at "you and you and you and you" and told you I didn't want you to fall into that category. Did you stay drug-free like you vowed you would?

How about the Valentines Day Mr. Collado came in so we could demonstrate our salsa dancing skills for you? It tickled my heart to hear some of the girls giggle over how "hot" Mr. Collado was.

All these highlights make me smile.

A funny thing happened yesterday when I went down to the basement and sorted through all I have that remains from our year together. I discovered a stack of letters from one particularly rough day in the classroom. No one told you to write the letters. You wrote them yourselves. "Mrs. Collado, I'll always be by your side when you cry."

"You're the best. Even when we treat you less than you deserve."

"At first I thought that you are new, you would go easy on me, but I have not been going easy on you."

"Thank you Mrs. Collado for not given up and I know you wanted to a couple of times. So would I."

The notes revealed something that may or may have not been painfully obvious to you.

Teaching fifth grade was a struggle for me.

I had gone to college for several years to prepare to be your teacher, but many teachers will tell you that is only the beginning. There is a huge learning curve that most teachers encounter when they hit the classroom.

Frankly, it was hard. Really hard.

But I was determined to give it my best shot. So every morning when I walked into our classroom an hour before you got there, I would shut the door and my knees would hit the floor and I would pray and ask God for help in being your teacher.

He didn't magically make you behave like angels. He didn't cause you to all master fractions overnight. But I do believe we got through the year in one piece and had some meaningful experiences along the way.

I used to think that if I was struggling, it meant that something was wrong. But the further I get along in life, the more I learn that the struggle (as much as I may not like it at first), and the way we handle it, is such an important part of life.

And so, as you stand on the brink of the rest of your life, that is what I want to say to you, my darling 5th graders.

Don't be afraid to struggle. In fact, it will likely be a constant theme for the rest of your life. In many of your cases, it already has been.

A day won't go by that you don't struggle for something.

Warning: not every struggle is worth it. Listen to your heart to help you determine which struggles are so you can use your energy for the ones that matter. Is there a relationship that is draining the life out of you? Is the way you are managing your money making your life miserable? When you honestly look at your life, is it uncomfortable? Do you find you are not being loyal or true to the person you'd like to be? ARE YOU DOING DRUGS? Or engaging in other harmful behaviors? These aren't the good kinds of struggles. I pray that you can shift the way you're doing things and living your life into struggles that will be worth it.

The struggles that are worth it? Relationships that are good for your soul. Being dedicated to your job and carefully putting some money away. Giving diligent effort to the trade or college degree you are after. Making good and honest choices each day so that you can confidently stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye and like who you see.

Not everything will be a struggle. Some things will come easily to you. And pay close attention to them, because those are your gifts. You can use them to better the lives of the people around you.

Not everyday will be a struggle. I hope you can count on many, many hands the days you go to bed with a smile plastered on your face and happiness lingering in your heart.

So was our year a struggle for me?


Was it the first time I had struggled?

Certainly not. Stick around for awhile here on this blog that I've created and you'll quickly learn a lot more.

And my struggles did not end when I left the classroom. Among other challenges, before I can go to bed every night I have to put a talkative five-year-old and a demolition derby of a two-year-old to sleep first. But our lives together with their dad are sweet and satisfying.

But back to all of you. I just want you to know that as far as struggles go, you were worth it.

Now go and live a fulfilling life.

All my love,
Mrs. Collado


  1. Hey Mrs. Collado!
    I am so glad we are in touch! I will never forget my 5th grade year, because looking back, I can honestly say it was my favorite. I can remember a day in 5th grade when we had pushed you past your breaking point, and Mrs. Taylor had to come in and watch us while you went in to her classroom to collect yourself. I can't explain how bad I felt that we had made you feel so stressed out and upset. That was the day we wrote you those apology letters. I don't think we ever wanted to hurt you, or make you feel like our class was a daily difficulty. It really boiled down to the fact that you were young, kind, and a new opportunity to make a friend....and that's exactly what I know you were to us, a brand new friend. We could relate to you, and sometimes that lead to us treating yoh like one of our 5th grade peers, instead of an adult who deserved our respect. You pushed through it though, and so did we!
    I can't believe we are graduating this year, and I am so excited to continue on and better myself. I still have contact with almost everyone from our 5th grade class, and I still consider many of them friends. Many of those friendships were forged in your class.
    I hope you know that you impacted each of our lives, and gave us a personal experience our 5th grade year, of feeling important and empowered.

    You sang a song at the end of the year from the musical, Wicked, about how you were so glad we were friends. You gave us a picture frame with a quote in it, and I still have that picture frame on my dresser in my room.
    Thank you for taking a chance on us, and sticking around. Much love, Kasarah.

    1. That was beautiful Kasarah. Your sweet words and the fact that you still have that frame on your dresser mean so much. Much love back. ♥