I have a lot of back to school anxiety. But it’s not about me or my classroom; it’s about my oldest son who has some learning challenges. I want his teachers to understand him and see the wonderful human being that I see every day. In short, I want him to be safe, cared for, and loved, which I think is what every parent wants.
In light of my own wish for my son’s experience, I wrote a letter to the parents of my students hoping to bridge the gap between the classroom and home. Maybe I’ll be overwhelmed with emails from parents, or perhaps it will be that extra bit of support. Either way, I’m hoping that by reaching out, I can learn more about my students so that I can serve them better.
To the Caregivers of my Students:
I’m writing to you in hopes of beginning a partnership between home and English class for all my students. Your insight into your students and their strengths and next steps can make a difference in my instruction and approach. Please feel free to email me with anything that would be helpful as I get to know your students. In my experience, a tip from a parent about a student’s interest or needs has often been the information that helped me to strengthen our relationship and move a student’s learning forward.
You may notice (at least I’m hoping you will) that your student is reading at home. A core expectation of this English class will be that students actively find their own reading material and reflect on the type of readers they are. By the end of the course, my hope is that they will have favourite authors, genres, and books while also finding books that offer a challenge from what they would typically select. You can help with this in several ways: talk to your students about what they are reading, listen to audiobooks in the car or public transportation, or make frequent trips to the library together. If possible, read a book that your student is also reading. Reading in isolation is not as rewarding as reading with a community of family, teachers, and friends who are also reading and talking about books. If you are interested in sharing a favourite book with the class, please contact me. I could arrange a Skype session or a classroom visit for a 5-minute book talk. Also, we are always looking for used book donations or books from our class wish list, which I will find a way to post.
My personal classroom library and the school library contain a range of reading material. Caregivers often have different ideas of what types of content is acceptable for their students. For example, there are young adult novels that address drug addiction. Some caregivers may find this unacceptable, while others may be open to it. Please discuss your students’ book choices with them if you have any concerns.
As a class, we will read the Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. Please grab a copy and read with us if you have the time. There is also an audiobook available. We will probably read the novel sometime in October. The novel addresses the trauma of a survivor of Canada’s residential school system. I will be working with the HWDSB’s Indigenous and Equity teams to discuss the content in this novel properly. In addition to this core text, students will also participate in book clubs where they choose a novel to read with a small group. We are still building the selection for reading groups, but there is a range of titles and genres. Small groups of students may also be interested in checking out a book club package from the public library.
When we find the material we enjoy reading, we often find the inspiration we need to write. Students will write every day to practice the writing moves that we find authors employing in our reading material. The goal here is for students to build a portfolio of writing from which they will choose the pieces they wish to develop for evaluation and hopefully, publication. I will encourage students to submit their writing to newspapers, writing contests, blogs, or the school Sequitur. Writing can be intensely personal so students may not want to share everything they write, but asking if there is something you could read with their permission may help students take that first step to share their writing.
I usually communicate through email because it gives me time to think through responses and find information that sometimes phone calls do not allow, so I’ve asked students for the email addresses of their caregivers. If you wish me to use a different email than the one listed, please let me know. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
I am looking forward to getting to know your student.