Dear You

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Aug
  • 09
  • 2009

Dear Students:

Hi. Welcome to a new year and a new day! This is going to be the one when you do all those great things you’ve always wanted to do, when you’ll prove everyone wrong, when all your teachers will help instead of hinder you, when you’ll become an interesting person by being interested in lots of things, when you’ll realize that you have more control over your experiences and emotions than you ever thought, when you’ll discover that even the “boring” things have value, when you’ll kick some serious academic gluteus maximus. Lots of other great things will happen in your personal life, too, as a result of all this. It’s all good. All of it.

Relax, though, because your teachers also know that things happen sometimes. We know that sometimes it really isn’t your fault and that the final grade isn’t always the best indication of your skill in that subject. That’s a bummer and this is an imperfect system we work within. We will try everything we can to make sure the grade shows your skill in our subject and nothing else. We’ll also try our best to give you multiple chances to show us your ability, learn the skills you need, and make up for things you missed in the past.

Partially to that address that, there are a number of tests scattered throughout the year. I know, I know. It feels like those tests are a waste of time since they don’t impact your grade. I get it. Really, I do. Your teachers do, too. Here’s the good news: you have a chance on those tests to prove just how talented you are, even if you’re falling down in the course itself. Step it up on all those bubble tests, put in your full effort, and you just might be moved on to the next level of English even if your grades hint that might not be the best thing. It’s your chance to show that your low grade is not your skill, but something else. If you shrug off all those tests, you’re sending the message that you don’t have what it takes and we both know that’s the wrong message to send. We want the final grade to be an indication, not the indication of your skills. You are more than just one mark and it’s your level of skill that is ultimately important.

One more thing: it is never too early, but it is sometimes too late. Please start to look right now at your graduation requirements and everything you’re doing toward that goal. Consider summer and night school. You don’t want to be in your senior year without any idea of what you need to do in order to walk the stage in June. It’s not too high a bar, but you might need to start thinking about some of these things now in order to jump that bar in a few years. Your teachers are here to help you and we have full faith that we can. You can do this.

All your teachers already believe all this. We’re so glad that you finally do, too. Now let’s begin.

Your School

Dear Teachers:

What if you believed the above about every single one of your students for 180 days of the school year, regardless of how they presented themselves? Is there any information you can give your students that will help them realize that they, in fact, can do this? What if you thought today is the day that student will finally start to put things together? How would that change the way you interact with your students, sequence your lessons, and create assignments? How can you make it so that none of your students end up waiting too long to take care of business, that even a student in the last minute can show the skills needed to pass your class?

And what if all of your colleagues believed the same? How would that change your school climate? How would that change manifest itself? How would that impact your school’s physical campus, staff development meetings, disciplinary action, and activities?

How does my letter to students need to be edited? Did I miss the mark on a few things?


1. Tom says:

[8/10/2009 - 5:34 am]

What a great letter. Makes me think about doing something similar.

I’d probably drop “finally” from “We’re so glad that you finally do, too.” Makes it seem like it took them a while to catch on, which I would bristle at.

2. Todd says:

[8/10/2009 - 3:46 pm]

Thanks, Tom. I always appreciate your feedback. I can get behind the removal of that word. The vantage of “it took them a while to catch on” is where I started all this, but I know that’s condescending and not at all the spirit I intend here. “We knew you could do it all the time!” is really more the vibe I’m trying to send.

If you do something similar, let me know. I wonder if we can all agree what would be in a letter like this or if it has to be different from state to district to school almost by definition.