I have talked in a few blogs previously about how my goal this year is to improve communication with parents. It is a big part of our school’s focus, and I have made it a personal goal as well. One thing I though of is letter journals.
Every other week students write letters to me in their letter journal and I respond. On the alternating weeks, students write letters to their parents and their parents are supposed to respond to their child. Now call me crazy, but if I can write 24 letters every other week, the parents should be able to write one back to their own child. Right? Apparently not.
Each time it’s a parent week my kids moan and groan when they begin their letters and when I asked why they were complaining, they respond with things like, “I like writing to you better. At least you write back.” It breaks my heart hearing things like this. I have sent out a message on Class Dojo the Friday of parent weeks and explain to them to just write a brief message back to their child. It doesn’t need to be lengthy, just a couple sentences.
I get very frustrated when students bring their journals back on Monday and I ask who got a response from their parents. The record is four. Four out of twenty four students have a parent at home that takes the time to write back to them. These frustrations made me reflect on my own schooling.
I grew up in a house with two supporting parents who helped me on homework every night, read to me, attended open house and parent conferences. My school was in a middle to upper class district and everyone in my school had the latest and greatest things. Starting to teach in a Title One school has opened my eyes to a world beyond Clarence, New York.
My school had a 97% graduation rate, and I can’t think of a friend of mine who didn’t have supportive parents. They got read to, helped with homework, and always were pushed to do their best. To say my school wasn’t diverse would be an understatement. I can count on one hand the amount of non-White students in my school of 1,600.
The reason I bring that up is to show just how different my teaching experience is from my student experience. I have students in my class who are just starting to learn English, reading three grade levels below and not getting any help at home, and students who are above grade level.
I’m sure there was a wide range of skills in my school growing up that I was just naive to, but I don’t think it was anything like I am dealing with now. If we brought letter journals home, it would be strange if there was a single parent that didn’t reply.
I was never exposed to the children that I teach now, and in a weird way it upsets me that I grew up in the place that I did. I am embarrassed that I went twenty two years before learning that there are students in fourth grade that can’t read. Or students that live in a trailer with five siblings. Or students that aren’t sure what they’ll eat when they get home.
Teaching in a low income school has opened my eyes and brought new inspiration to my teaching. I know I can’t teach a child to read in a day, but it is my goal to provide them with resources and skills that they can use to enhance their literacy the rest of their lives. I would ideally like to get their parents on board too but that is proving to be a harder task than teaching the students to read.
I tell me students all the time that it’s okay to make mistakes and if something doesn’t work, try something new. It seems as if the letter journals aren’t working so I either need to think of another way to get parents to write back or make a new plan to get parents involved. My main focus is to teach my students, but I want them to know that I am here to support them as well.