My great grandmother and my grandfather were both teachers at the same school that I did my field experience, student teaching, and first long term teaching position. My parents had enjoyed school, attended my events, and had positive things to say about my teachers and my school.
So, whenever I took on my first teaching job, I was ignorant to the fact that not all people had these positive experiences with school. In fact, it didn’t take me long to realize that some of the more withdrawn or even problematic students may not come from families who have a zest for the educational system.
So, when I reached out to parents about different issues, it also didn’t take me long to learn that hearing from a teacher (even if I’m 15-25 years younger than the adults I am reaching out to), can give some people a sense of anxiety, or perhaps even a reason to put up a wall.
There are always going to be times when you have to communicate negative things home. Sometimes, there are behavior issues. Sometimes, the parents need to know about missing assignments or low grades. Sometimes, other concerns come up. Usually, this communication is done over phone or email. And, of course, these conversations don’t really help bridge the gap between home-and-school, nor do they always remind parents that I’m on their side, looking out for their child’s best intentions.
To contrast this, one thing I adopted early on in my teaching career was spending time hand-writing positive letters home to students’ families. Sometimes, I write letters to my all-star awesome students, and sometimes, I write letters to students who I may have previously had to reach out to over negative concerns, but use this as a way to show that the student has turned it around. I bet most of us would agree that about 25% of our children are super extroverted, and are well aware that they are awesome. The other 25% cause issues sometimes, tend to lack respect of their work, and maybe don’t always follow expectations.
We tend to devote all of our energy to those two extremes, and I am sending a call out to you all to not forget about those in the middle!
I try to find those ones in the room. (Yes, that was me.) The ones who always have their work done, participate from time to time, are kind to those around them, and just plain doing what they are supposed to do. If I had to predict, I’d say about half of your class falls into this category. Unfortunately, especially if you teach middle school or high school, many of these students leave your room once the year is over without getting any substantial praise or recognition for just being a good kid.
I made it a goal to hand write one letter a week. Some tips on letter writing:
- Make sure to keep track of the children who already got a letter, as you want to be sure to reach as many families throughout the year as you can.
- Fill the card with general compliments about the student, but to save time, you don’t need to list specific little things the student has done.
- Be sure to tell the families how proud you are to be their child’s teacher. This has always really hit home for the parents I send it to.
I highly encourage you to make this a part of your weekly to-do list. I have seen countless benefits from this genuine positive communication.