Tag Archives: letter

Write me a letter

I need to improve how I get to know my students at the beginning of the school year.

I already knew that I was weak on this front, but when Sara VanDerWerf detailed launching tasks by creating context that honors students, it really inspired me to get the ball rolling.

I already have a couple of routines that allow me to connect with my students. Namely, personal notes, Friday letters, and end of year letters that I open at the start of the next school year. But what I’m missing is something substantial at the start of the year that will help me design the class around my students (that’s not content-based).

So this year, during the first week of school, I’m going to have students write me a letter. It can be handwritten or an email and serves as an opportunity for students to personally communicate whatever it is about themselves that they think I should know. I may provide prompts for those that need guidance, but I want the letter to be somewhat open-ended. I want them to tell me what they feel is important. Some prompts I’m thinking of are:

  • What’s something about yourself that I wouldn’t know by looking at you?
  • What’s your family’s background? Do you speak any languages other than English?
  • Who do you live with? Do you have any siblings?
  • In all of your years of school, who is/was your favorite teacher? Why?
  • Who is/was your least favorite? Why?
  • Was mathematics invented or discovered? Why do you think that? (Thanks Elizabeth.)
  • If you had to be any number, which one would you be? Why? (Thanks Matt.)

What’s more, over the course of the first few weeks of school, I’ll write every student a detailed letter in reply. This way they can get to know me on a more personal level as well. It’s a significant time committment, but one that I feel will be worth it in the long run.

Speaking of Sara, she also wrote about how she uses name tents during the first week of school, which I hope to adopt this year. This is a crafty, yet simple, way of not only learning student names, but also learning all that is behind those names.



Starting the year with letters


Last year I really started getting into writing more with my students. (This probably started because of my first year of blogging.) Specifically, I did Friday letters and notes that I wrote students while they took exams. I also had my students write themselves a letter mid-year that I held onto and gave back to them at the end of the school year. 

To culminate all this writing, on the last day of school I had each student write me a letter that I didn’t open until the first day of classes this year. I asked them to give me some inspiration for the new school as well as simply capturing the moment at the end of a long, hard-fought school year. I locked the letters away for the summer.

When I opened my closet a few weeks ago upon my return to school, the letters were staring directly at me. I strategically placed them in front of all my crap so I wouldn’t forget. 

What I read convinced me that I have to do this again in June. Some letters provided fresh perspective and advice of how to teach more effectively. There was some really good advice, like being tougher and expecting more. Others served as reminders as to exactly why I became a teacher. I was informed by one kid that I was head and shoulders their favorite teacher of all time. Others proved more serious, like the one that shared insight into the world of living with divorced parents. 

They were heartfelt, real, and unadulterated. The letters allowed me to reconnect, at least in spirit, with those kids and all we experienced in room 516. I learned a lot too. They were exactly what I needed to start the year.