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My First Year College Experience: I’m Glad My Teachers Went with Me

As I was packing to leave for college and be away from home for the first time, I remember feeling nervous and uncertain about whether I was truly ready for this big step. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a particular journal sitting on my dresser that I had meant to leave behind. For some reason though, I couldn’t, so I swept it into my backpack. That journal ended up giving me the confidence I needed throughout all four years of college.

This journal was not simply a diary or a place for my thoughts. It was where all my past teachers were able to speak to me.

My First Year College Experience

At the end of every school year, my mom would pass this journal around to my teachers. Each teacher wrote a short letter that included words of affirmation, accomplishments in class, and good wishes for my future. My mom would then take a picture of me with each teacher and place that picture beside their letters.

As a child, this yearly tradition was something that simply happened at the end of the school year, almost like a chore. Now that I am out of school, this journal is one of my most treasured possessions.

While it is fun to look over what my teachers wrote about me in elementary school and grimace at my early 90s outfits (Overalls? Really?), the letters that resonate with me the most come from the teachers who knew me when I was a teenager. Their insight and encouragement when I was awkward and still figuring out my life path became the words I would need during similar times of uncertainty in college.

When I got to my senior year of high school, I had the realization of “this is it.” This is the last year I will be collecting these letters. I read the final letters and even flipped through the journal, seeing the faces of my teachers and recalling forgotten moments in class.

My Teacher Journal

I thought that was the end of my journey with my teacher journal. However, then came the moment where I swept it into a backpack to take with me to college. I think deep down I knew I would need it. While encouraging words from friends and family are always welcome, there is something about knowing your teachers stand behind you that gives you a different level of confidence in your ability to learn and succeed.

The first time I ever opened the journal in college was in the first week of classes. I was overwhelmed, alone, and doubting myself every which way I turned. Classes seemed hard, making friends even harder, and being on my own downright impossible.

The journal sat patiently waiting on my bookshelf. I remember reading each and every letter, even the one from my Spanish teacher, in Spanish of course. Their words gave me a surge of confidence. The voices of my teachers throughout the years, telling me in one symphonious voice: We believe in you.

‘We Believe in You’

I needed them in that moment to remind me why I should believe in myself. In this journal, I get to see the girl I was and compare her to the woman I have become. I think about how these teachers saw this potential in me that I had not yet seen myself.

Parents, if you’re looking for a meaningful graduation gift for your teenager, this might just be the ticket. One day—and that day will come sooner than you expect—your kids may need their teachers again. The first year college experience can be a difficult rite of passage, even for kids who are excited to go away to college. A journal filled with their encouraging words may be just what they need to get through a rough patch. They will be glad to always have their teachers’ words on their bookshelves, filled with proof of their own potential and ability to grow.

Lindsey Fischer is a freelance writer and a graduate of the Masters of Arts in Creative Writing program from Ohio University.

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