Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Dear Teacher...7 things to Tell Your Teacher About Your Child

I'm writing as a teacher today.  I'm writing because I have well and truly been in a parent meeting in November and had the parent blow me away with some interesting little tidbit of information about their child, and all at once, like a wobbly game of dominoes, circumstances, words, marks even, fell into place.

Being the calm controlled kinda gal I am, I usually replied to this with a knowing nod and reassuring murmur all the while doing my darndest to smother the deafening screeching of my mind shouting 
WHAT THE !#$& ?

And I'm yelling this (in my head) not to said parent, but to myself!  "Really Jill?  You've taught this kid for two solid months now!  You've seen her almost everyday for the past 60 days!  How could you not know this!?"

At this point, I'll do a good 24 hours of self-doubt cross-examination, acting like a CSI spy trying to figure out how I missed this, who I should have spoken to first, and which file I obviously glossed over. 

In my defense, I've never taught primary.  I've never had 20 or 30 kids all day every day that I could observe and speak with whenever I wanted.  Sometimes I saw 75 kids in a day and taught three different grade levels (grade 4 through to grade 12).  Teachers do this all this time, in fact, many see upwards of 150 students in a day.  It still doesn't excuse me from knowing something important about my students' learning but I think it's understandable how, if it's not a disability blaring from a loudspeaker, or some obvious talent waving a red flag, in the hustle and bustle of classroom life, it can get missed. 

So here is my plea to parents to help teachers like me, avoid the uncomfortable situation of discovering new information too late in the game.  I know, I know, you don't want to be THAT parent...over-stepping boundaries, hovering, interfering.  Don't worry, with this short letter that really only takes about 10 minutes to fill out, you will NOT.  What you WILL do, is, just maybe, give your child and their teacher a little boost, so to speak.  A boost towards understanding and developing a meaningful relationship where learning can flourish.

It should be noted that I borrowed heavily (at least it would seem, since I did my research for this post backwards (tsk, tsk, finger wave) and wrote first, then googled & asked colleagues later).  I found Kelly at Mocha Momma was on the same wavelength here so I do want to give her credit, and I'm sure there are many others because what I'm suggesting isn't revolutionary.  Yet, I wrote it (again) because I believe it is important to be reminded, and in my research, I never did find a free download (like this! or this!) for a quick letter to pop in the backpack or copy & paste in an email. 

When you open the letter itself you'll find that it starts with a nice little paragraph opener, a disclaimer if you will, notifying your child's teacher of your intentions with this inform, without preaching, to assist without expectation. Then there are 7 short fill-in-the-blank sentences that you fill out for your child.  Here they are: 

1. ___(child's name here)_____'s favorite activity is __________________. 

Not only does this give the teacher some fodder for playground/hallway chat but perhaps they will be able to offer some lessons one day that really tune into to your child's favorite thing.  For example, if your child really loves building things, the teacher may be able to incorporate that into a science lesson or perhaps a language arts project where the child comes up with five fantastic sentences with awesome describing words about his new cardboard box house. 

2. ___(child's name here)_____responds really well to ______________.

What is your child's best motivator?  Candy, hugs, high-five's, encouraging words, stickers, prizes?  You may be surprised that some kids could care less about candy (or, because of an allergy or sensitivity, can't eat it) but get super pumped about a new pencil.  Likewise, some kids are NOT touchy-feely, whereas others, hug any chance they get.  Teachers usually figure out the "huggers" pretty quick, but it's still nice to reinforce.  A great resource I love love love is Gary Chapman & Ross Campbell's "The 5 Love Languages of Children".
They do a great job explaining how we all respond to different love languages ranging from words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. To take a quick quiz to see what your child's love language is visit:

3. ___(child's name here)_____ is involved in these sports/clubs/arts:

Of course not all children are into organized sports or clubs, but if they are, it's nice to know for a couple reasons.  1) General interest.  Another hallway topic to bring up to make Jr. feel special and thought about.  2) Possible interference with homework or after school study times.  Most activities won't demand that much attention and certainly won't justify missing homework all the time, but the occasional away game or late night (with the consequence of homework not being done) is usually acceptable if the teacher knows about it ahead of time or gets a parent note explaining the reasons.

 4. ___(child's name here)_____ needs to be reminded of/to ___________________________.

It seems I could send a new sentence like this each month to my daughter's teacher, as her "bad habits" seem to shift so frequently!  At one point at the beginning of kindergarten -and I shudder again thinking about this- she licked things.  Yes, with her tongue, up close & personal to whatever she saw or her could get her hands on...pencils, tables, her jacket.  The old "ignore it and it will go away" didn't apply here and I sent a quick email telling her teachers that if they saw this behavior to please firmly but quietly remind her that, "our mouths are for eating food and talking, NOT licking."  I don't know that she actually did this a lot in school (she actually didn't do it a lot in public places) but I think that by both of us watching and using the same vocabulary to warn her, she eventually dropped it within a month. I have no idea what the root of this issue was (attention-seeking? stimuli-seeking? boredom? acting like a baby to reminisce of days "long ago"?) but fortunately another behavior did not replace it (that I could tell) so we seemed to nip it in the bud pretty effectively.  I can imagine that had she been attention-seeking, she would have found something else equally as disgusting or bothersome to do.  Again, with the help of her teacher, I have faith we would have figured out the root of it together, thereby eliminating the need for her to be "fighting a battle" in the classroom and me to be "fighting" it at home, perhaps trying two failing strategies. 

This year, this month anyway, my request would simply be to remind my daughter to grab her jacket at home-time.  I'm positive that come winter, no teacher would even pass her in the hallway in a tee-shirt and not ask her to go back and find her coat, but with the balmy fall we've had, and the hustle and bustle of post-bell packing and bus-catching, Miss E has managed to leave four hoodies/jackets in her tiny little Gr. 1 locker!  It's not a big deal, but if her teacher knew she was so bad at remembering, I know she'd be happy to throw out a reminder here and there so that all the lockers got emptied every night.  

5. ___(child's name here)_____ is diagnosed with _______________________.

This is usually redundant but never hurts to reinforce with a simple one-line statement.  Out of a class of 25, many teachers will have 5-10 "coded"/"IPP" students (the term may vary but basically means the child has a doctor-certified diagnosis and requires accommodations).  If your child needs accommodations in the classroom this will probably be discussed with you by the first week, but if you have an older child with a non-visible or very mild disorder it doesn't hurt to remind.  

I remember teaching one such high school student who had a very mild case of Asperger's.  Although the doctor had confirmed it, it had never been filed nor had he been given a "code" (as our school district calls it) and there was really no major concerns over his grasp of academic subjects.  I only taught this boy one class a day as as such, I didn't have a clue that he struggled with this.  It wouldn't have changed my grading or expectations of him, but once his mother informed me of this (in a casual after school chat) a few situations suddenly made sense and I was more sensitive to placing him in group work and large class discussions. 

6.  ___(child's name here)_____ has had trouble with __________________in the past.

The unfortunate reality of many classrooms is that, yes, there will be 5 or 6 diagnosed disorders (to which accommodations will be made and educational assistance above a classroom teacher will be given) but the majority of children will struggle with certain things such as focus, organization, reading in general, the ability to write stories down etc. They struggle, but not to the degree to warrant another body in the classroom to help. This means that one teacher is responsible for organizing the accommodations of 5 or 6 students as well as finding creative ways to encourage roughly 15 other students to read, write and do math.  

Knowing your child has struggled with reading in the past, will give their teacher a nice heads-up to perhaps direct him/her to more level-appropriate books, or maybe even, if an extra body is available one day, give them a little extra attention. 

7. I would say ___(child's name here)_____is a(n) _______________________learner.

The eight major learning styles are as follows and we all fall into at least one of these styles (certainly some of us fall into two or three):

I took these "mantras" from which has a great quiz for older students to determine what their learning style is.  Visit the site to pull up more detailed descriptions of each learning style and tips for the way you learn.

i) Naturalistic. Your mantra: Let's investigate the natural world.
ii) Bodily-Kinesthetic. Your mantra: Movement is fundemental.
iii) Musical. Your mantra: That sounds good to me!
iv) Interpersonal. Your mantra: I understand what you mean.
v) Intrapersonal. Your mantra: To thine own self be true.
vi) Visual-Spatial.  Your mantra: What you see is what you get.
vii) Logical-Mathematical.  Your mantra: Why?  Well, because it's logical!
viii) Verbal-Linguistic. Your mantra: Tell me in words - written or spoken - and I'll understand

I have done quizzes with my older students in the past so that they can see for themselves what type of learner they are, but it's always helpful to get the "at-home version" from a loved one who has known them since day one to offer another perspective on the student's learning style.

8.  This one isn't listed on the downloadable letter because I don't feel it can be quite as succinct as a one line statement, but I would also encourage you to either write or discuss with the teacher any "at home struggles" that may be going on in your child's life.  Divorce, sickness of a loved one, even a pet's death, are really hard on kids (even, and sometimes especially teenagers, who are "supposed" to act like adults so much of the time)  It never ceases to amaze me how hurt feelings or confusion actually manifest as displays of aggression, disruption or complete inability to focus or participate even on a favorite subject.  Most children won't know how to deal with these feelings in the "traditional way" grown-ups have learned to deal with them (meaning, for example, when you're sad, you cry or when you're mad, you want to yell)   For many children, a feeling of sadness may not trigger tears, but cause them to pick on one of their best friends, be the crazy class clown trying to make everyone laugh or cause the extrovert to become introvert.  There is no telling how or why these emotions turn into specific actions but a little insight (details aren't necessary) can go a long way into dealing with behavior changes.

Here is the link again for the downloads. They are the exact same letter except the boy version is dark navy blue and the girl version is purple and all the "he's" and "she's" are in the right place.  Apologies for not making the letter any "prettier" and my "free version of Word" doesn't even let you see the font and format in the image preview, but in this case, I think the content is meaningful enough as it is!
Things to tell Your Teacher About Your Child boy version

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