Letter Journal Frustrations

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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4 thoughts on “Letter Journal Frustrations

  1. leighahall October 16, 2016 / 8:08 pm

    So what is the reason the parents don’t respond? I worked in a low income school. Here were just some of the reasons for what would get categorized as “low parental involvement’:
    (a) working multiple jobs as a single parent including a job in the evening and/or on weekends (any combination you can think of)
    (b) parents don’t read english
    (c) parents read english but cannot write in english
    (d) parents read and write in english but believe they write poorly.
    (e) for some, school was a horrible experience and they would prefer not to engage with it and open old wounds

    Yes, some parents couldn’t be bothered to do this. But in my experience you are talking about 1% of your student population if that. Your students’ parents care about them and want them to do well in school. They are likely trusting you to play a significant role in this. In my experience, they are not lacking an involved parental figure. Yes, they may have contact with only one parent. A parent could be in prison. They might live with Grandma – there are any number of configurations here. The majority of them have this. Again, some won’t but it will be a small percentage.

    What I would encourage you to do is redefine your definition of involved. Because I guarantee you that whoever is fulfilling that parental role is working their ass off and definitely does not see themselves as uninvolved. They are doing their best, but their best is going to likely look very different to you.

    I would also encourage you to not do this project anymore at least in its current format. It clearly does not work and is only creating discontent among the students. Think about what the point is of this project – what do you want students to learn or gain from it? Why, for example, does it have to be an adult that responds? Are there other ways to configure this for greater success and less frustration? I’ll look forward to seeing where you take this.

    Like

    • rachelhaley36 October 17, 2016 / 11:38 pm

      I’m sorry that was how this blog was interpreted because it wasn’t my intention to imply that these parents don’t care about their children. I was more comparing it to how I grew up and how it is a different experience having the teacher role. I was frustrated more on myself that I couldn’t come up with a way to get parents more involved.

      My goal in these letter journals was to give the students an authentic audience when writing. As far as the future goes, I have already taken measures to alter this project. Every other week the students will still write to me and I will respond. I believe this is important to build relationships within the classroom. On the alternate weeks, students will be writing to second graders at another school and having PenPals. They are acting as a mentor to younger kids and I’m hoping that it will continue to give them a purpose and audience with their writing.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to me, and I hope that the project moving forward is more of a success.

      Liked by 1 person

      • leighahall October 19, 2016 / 2:32 pm

        I think that the larger purpose of the writing is a good one – students writing for an audience. The audience could be parents, but it doesn’t have to be. You want the students to be excited about it, and part of that excitement is tied to knowing someone is going to engage with them. So it’s about finding an audience to make that connection. What I had hoped to do with the examples in my previous comment is illustrate that while writing a couple of sentences in a journal seems like a very simple task to ask an adult to do, it can actually be much more complicated than you realize.

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  2. karkk1ka October 18, 2016 / 3:15 pm

    I found this post to be very interesting. I too, feel I had a very non-diverse schooling. I can already see how much I have to learn while in my pre-student teaching and hear some of the students struggles outside of the classroom. It is something that I feel I will have to make a conscious effort to reframe my mindset when I run into issues such as the one you are experiencing with your project. I hope your adjustments will be successful for you and your students.

    Like

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