Atlas Education recently posted a comment on my Letter to Parents: Uh….why bother? Because it makes parents feel better?
I have taken a while to answer this question because I stopped and took time to reflect on it. My first reaction was: NO! Why would someone even ask that? After a little reflection, I understand the question and then I had to really revisit why I started doing parent letters in the first place. Communication, communication, communication. That is the secret to building positive relationships with students, parents, peers and administration. It opens doors to attitudes, behaviors and situations that creates a environment when students have opportunities to learn. Here are my thoughts.
1) Letters to Parents are (usually) positive communication that promotes a healthy relationship with parents.
I have started to use frequent letters home because of a curriculum I started using a few years back: CMP2. They include an introductory letter about the curriculum, informing parents and students how their year will develop in math class. Unit letters to parents that inform them of what their student will be working on over the next few weeks and some quick refreshers about the type of math and solution processes that are involved. I wanted a personal stamp on the end of the year, and even though I gave you a general outline of my letter I include individual details about each student. Positive relationships pave the way to successful school years, and future ones as well when you instruct siblings. The first few weeks of school I send out good news letters to parents, trying to hit every student in my class with positive notes and reminders of things they do well in class. This can really turn students around at this age. I had a parent recently come to me and tell me about how one of my correspondences helped her son. He was very down on mathematics and school in general. He came home and told his mother that he wanted to switch schools, and they had a long talk about his experiences in school and whether that was a good choice. Then the mail came, and my good news postcard. The mother said that he lit up when he read what I had to say about his classroom participation and work. He decided to stay at our school, and he received straight A’s for my class that year. He graduated 5 years later (I had him in 7th grade) and went to college. His mother said that he never was down on himself about school ever since that day. That one instance is enough for me to continue this throughout my teaching career.
2) Students (generally) do not tell their parents what happens in math class.
It never fails, when I have conversations with parents at conferences or on the phone we talk about what happens in class academically. My students do not share their school experiences with parents unless it involves some type of public performance or participation. I want parents to know what is happening in the classroom, and what I expect their children to do in class. Many parents are surprised at the activities and projects I have students create, and students start to take pride in their work and accomplishments. This goes a long way in the combat of “I am not good at math.”
3) Parents do not understand their student’s mathematics homework.
Parents do not understand the shift of focus away from skill practice to knowledge and application of mathematical topics. By sending out unit letters, parents are given a sample of problems students are expected to do in class- and I have some parents who then look these topics up on the internet so they can be more effective in helping their student in homework. I feel you need to provide this information to both student and parent so that they can be successful in their math work.
4) Students will appreciate the knowledge that you have a relationship with their parents.
Many of my students come to my class with the attitude “I am not working for this teacher, he cares nothing about me and I will never see him after this year.” In order to teach students, you need to develop a level of respect and understanding- which is even more important in the lives of children of poverty. If I can not create a positive connection with my students within the first week, I will not be a successful teacher for them. My students really respond when I am able to connect with their parents and we present a unified front on expectations of classwork and behavior for school. They may initially say they hate the fact that I make these contacts, but later on they come back to me and tell me how much they appreciated it. Many of my 8th grade students take care of their younger siblings, leaving no time for any type of academic pursuit outside of school. By talking with parents and letting them know your expectations of students, the parents create time for their children to work on their schoolwork. Kids want to be successful in school, but they also want to support their family in any way they can. If students do not have the opportunity to think about class experiences earlier that day, they are not creating deep connections to their learning. If they are not creating those connections, they lose the importance of school during the day- leading to behavior problems or skipping of class. Give them every tool possible to allow them to grow and thrive.
5) I want parents and students to know and remember what skills they have learned over the year, I want to empower students with a positive self image of their mathematical learning.
Every year 80% of my class says they are bad at math. At the end of the year, that number drops to around 20%. I want students to have a positive image about themselves as mathematical students, they deserve it.
Does this mean I am doing this just to make parents feel good? Yes and no. This is the product of a year long relationship I make with my students and parents. This is about supporting these young adults so they believe they can accomplish their dreams. It reviews what major topics student have covered over the year, and gives both student and parent a vocabulary of the mathematics used. It is the essence to be a successful teacher: communication, communication, communication.