A few of my 17 kids

For those of you that read my post last week, On Valentine’s Day Smell the Damn Roses or Else you know that I’ve been working a very hectic, full schedule for the past few months. Well, my schedule is about to open up, but as it does, and a chapter of my life closes, I know that I will forever have left something behind. I never thought working with children could be so rewarding, nor did I imagine it would be so difficult to walk away from (yes… I’m ending this sentence with a preposition). I have agonized for weeks anticipating this moment, viewing the situation through the eyes of the kids who will feel abandonment from me, a role model (tooting my own horn) whom they’d come to respect and dare I say love? If you’ve worked with children before, you understand my sentiment. Today, I presented the letter below to their parents. Tomorrow, I will break the news to the kids, which will surely break my heart.

I share this moment with you all as an example that the right choices are not always the easiest and they don’t always come without pain. I’d love for you to share your reaction or a story of a similar situation of your own. Thank you for reading.

February 24, 2011

Dear parents,

It is not without difficulty that I write to inform you of my decision to leave Chesterbrook Academy on March 4. Each of your children has earned a place in my heart, and I truly regret causing them any pain over the coming difficulties of this transition.

Although you did not choose me as an after school teacher for your children, you chose Chesterbrook Academy who then put their confidence in me to share three hours each day with your kids.  Many of you have taken the time to learn about me on a personal level, and I appreciate your genuine support and amicable disposition toward me.

For those of you that do not know me well, I’d like to share a little about myself so that you can understand my decision to leave Chesterbrook. I graduated from the University of Georgia in 2007 with degrees in International Finance and Spanish, but instead of embarking on a career in corporate America, I opted to start my own business. Since 2008, my partners and I have built a business that manufactures and sells eco-friendly architectural paints. Because our industry is quite cyclical, we tend to slow both with seasonal changes and because we produce premium (higher priced) products, as a result of economic sluggishness.

In an effort to grow our brand awareness and market reach, I moved to Charleston in August from Atlanta.  Although my efforts have proven successful in aligning us with business opportunities, they have yet to substantiate my recommendation for our business to expand here. As a result, I opted to take on a second job in order to cover my expenses since the business was spending money in order to support my sales efforts. Due in part to guilt and the need to keep food on the table, I decided that I needed a second job.

Insert Chesterbrook. My roommate in Charleston, a friend from the University of Georgia, is Drew who is a first year law student at the Charleston School of Law and also was the Summer Camp Counselor for Chesterbrook Academy during Summer 2010. Knowing I needed a part-time job, he recommended that I apply as the after-school teacher here.

When Philicia hired me in November, I had no idea what to expect. Educational experience? I had little. But I did have a lifetime of experience with children.  I was excited and terrified at the same moment. How the same person that thrived on delivering sales pitches and presentations to rooms full of people could tremble at 16 kids was beyond me, but I was nervous. I wanted to be liked as a teacher by both you, the parents, and the students. Disciplined and organized, yet fun was my hope.

Over the past four months, I’ve tried my best to create an environment that taught your children to be respectful, well behaved, and diligent with school work while also allowing them to be the kids that they are. I’ve stumbled some days, others I felt I did ok. All the while, I kept realizing that it wasn’t Mr. Jamey who was doing the teaching but it was your children that were teaching Mr. Jamey.

They taught me so much during my short tenure that I can’t do it justice in the confines of this letter. Suffice it to say that much can be gleaned about the kindness of humanity by observing a group of children. Corruption will intervene – as is witnessed daily in our class as kids hoard crayons, legos, or computer time – but as if by divine intervention, they always seem to work out their disagreements, coming to an agreeable compromise for everyone involved. I marvel how 9 times out of 10, they solve their disagreements without my involvement.

For nearly 20 years, I had forgotten that there exists a world with limitless opportunity and potential and that that world exists within our own minds, within our own imaginations. You’re children reminded me of that, and for that I am forever grateful.

But most importantly, they reminded me what it means to be dependable. Children, I’ve learned, can forget what’s right or wrong, they can forget where they placed things, and they can forget to do their homework, but they never forget a promise. They held Mr. Jamey accountable to his promises, and I hope from the bottom of my heart that I half lived up to them.

It’s been rumored that I’m long-winded – I’m not so sure (ha) – but I’ve never had to write a letter like this, so I apologize. The decision to leave has been multi-faceted, but has resulted because I can no longer afford to be unavailable during the business day. I explored many options to overcome this obstacle, but ultimately, I realized the only viable option was to resign from my position.

In closing, I want to thank you all again. I will forever treasure this experience, and I know that your children are all destined to do great things because each of them possesses such a big heart and wonderful parents like you to see them through.

Most respectfully,

Jamey Burrell


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  • Brenda Lynn

    Jamey, as always, very eloquent and well written. I know those kids are going to miss you, as you will miss them. You seem to be such a good man, honorable and I am sure that you made a lasting impression on not only the kids but their parent and your coworkers. Well done, Jamey.

    Brenda Lynn

    • http://www.lifeasanexperiment.com James D. Burrell II


      I want to say perceptions can be deceiving because I’m always the jokester, but I don’t want to cheapen that wonderful comment. If I am a good guy, it’s only because I am the fortunate recipient of having been raised by one.

      It’s funny because I had so many professors (mostly in my Spanish studies) that wanted me to become a HS Spanish teacher or College Prof because they believed I possessed that ‘teacher’s gift’. I’m not sure what that is, but I do know now why teachers take genuine interest in their students. Students become some of our closets friends in certain ways. I share an intimate knowledge of legos, Sponge Bob, silly bandz, etc with my kids — things grown ups might laugh at. I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss our secret ‘high fives’, playing at recess, and reading stories. But I’m an adult, and I’ll survive. What has been hardest for me is knowing how the children will feel. I can only hope they understand why I’m leaving, but how much do 6,7 & 8 year olds understand life? Sadly, very little. They will see this as a broken promise, and they will be hurt. I wish more than anything that I can prevent that, but I can’t. I can only hope to check in every so often to remind them that I care about them.

      This day will not be easy, but I take solace in knowing that it DOES hurt; I know that I care, that I made them care, and that I put my heart into a situation where so many teachers fail to even try.

      We’ll see how it goes. Thanks so much Brenda for your wonderful and continued support.

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  • http://www.creativeguidetolife.com Susan

    So how did they react? And what’s next on the journey?

    • http://www.lifeasanexperiment.com James D. Burrell II

      Susan, I elicited every emotional response fathomable… well nearly. I had a few cry, a few grab hold of my legs and swear they’d never let go unless I agreed to stay, and others simply question why.

      For me, it was such a unique experience. How could I rationalize or explain my decision to children unable to understand the logic behind it? In hopes of turning their attention away from my departure, I had already organized plans to play more ‘games’ this week instead of focussing on scholastic activities, and we will culminate the week with a Field Day/ Good Bye party. I had the children work in teams to put together a list of activities, present them to the rest of the class, then vote on the top 3-4. Shifting their focus helped to defray their negative reaction some, but even yesterday, they were still pleading with me to stay.

      I’ve received such wonderful gratitude from the parents for not only the letter I wrote but for how much their children enjoyed having me as a teacher. It has helped me get through this knowing that I made a difference in their lives if even just for a few months.

      Thanks so much for all your support, and I hope that you are having a great week!!

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