A teacher’s 20-year assignment has finally concluded, at least until next year rolls around. A Canadian English teacher has been diligently giving his 14-year-old students an assignment decades in the making – his students pen letters to themselves, and after 20 years, they receive the letters in the mail.
Says Today.com on Tuesday: “For nearly 40 years, Bruce Farrer has been part teacher and part detective, tracking down thousands of his former students to give them a blast from their pasts. From 1977 until 2002, Farrer, who is now retired, had his 14-year-old English students write 10-page letters to their future selves.”
The exercise in self-posterity is a cause for reflection among his students – now adults – who have a benchmark, one might say, to cogitate on. A time capsule of sorts – to oneself.
“This is an assignment that they are anxious to get back,” the 72-year-old Farrer said. “It's an assignment that makes them think at 14, what do I want to do and am I on the right path? I think the main thing is just the enjoyment of finding something old. Most of them have remembered writing the assignment, although a number of them told me they didn't remember the details they put in.”
Former student Kate Marchildon will be getting her letter soon. Her older sisters both received theirs already and Kate is anxious to get hers back.
“I remember roughly what was going on in that point, but not specifically what I wrote, so I'm pretty curious,” Kate said of her upcoming blast-from-the-past letter. “I think it seems like it might be intimidating, but when you sat down to write it, it's kind of neat to think about what your future might be. I'm just impressed that he was still tracking us all down.”
Farrer uses social media to keep track of his students’ whereabouts, and always asks permission as to if he can read them. He said about half of the students allow him to read what they wrote, the other half want them kept sealed.
Now retired – his last year was 2002 – Farrer says he still is called in as a substitute from time to time. The beloved teacher has a stack of letters to mail out every year, with the last batch due to go out in the year 2026.
Farrer believes each one of his students should connect with history – their own. The former teacher still journals in his own personal diary.
“I’ve always had a sense of history,” he said. “I kept a diary since I was 11 or 12, and I found that fascinating to me when I became a teacher to see how I thought at that time. I also thought that it would be valuable for people raising children when they get the letters to remember what it’s like to be 14 years old. One student said the topics she wrote about as a teenager are the same ones her own 14-year-old daughter talks about when she gets home from school.”