My No-Bunk Letter to Parents

By Marsha Ratzel

At the end of the first day of middle school, many students will carry home at least 5 or 6 Welcome Back to School letters from teachers. Multiply this for every child in the family and a parent might be faced with reading 15 or 20 letters. Yikes. That’s a lot of reading – never mind all the forms that will be sent home to be signed and returned.

In my letter, I will probably not be giving long lists of rules or topics of study. I’m always sure to tell parents some basics: how to find my email address, when I’ll post grade updates, how they can schedule time to meet with me, when their student can get extra help, and my in-school planning time. That won’t take too much space, leaving room for these three topics in my Back to School Parent Letter.

1. Parents want to know that you have their child’s best interests on your radar.

Marsha’s science kids

Having a child’s best interests at heart is much easier said than explained. What does that mean? Here’s what I think.

Everyone probably will not be doing the same thing. Because students are different and they have different needs, some students will have different assignments. That’s scary for parents because they worry their child will feel different or be “left behind.”

A big part of my job is knowing just how far, when, and how much to push their child academically, finding their strengths and building resiliency.

Basically it’s “please trust me to do my job well.” I know it’s a privilege to work with students, and especially your child, and I honor that obligation.

2. Beyond the familiar sentiment that “every child is special” (and of course they are), what attitudes and expectations do I have for their student?

Personally I think all that propaganda that “every child is special and we want them to be all they can be” is so fake it’s bunk. The kids know it’s just something schools say. But if I believe that it really is true, what do I do to create a classroom environment that genuinely helps students find their strengths and weaknesses?

I want parents to understand that I will get to know their child well. I care about each student enough that I will get to know their handwriting, the kinds of mistakes they make, the places where they can shine and where they’ll need a boost. I will be there to give them a helping hand when they need it, as well as the “eye” when they are trying to slide by without doing their best.

I want parents to know that sometimes my class will be hard, but I will never leave their child unsupported even if he or she feels a little lost. We call those moments “planned struggle” – where I intentionally give them time to work on a problem without rushing in and “saving” them.

3. What can parents do to help their child succeed in this class?

You know, in all the years I was raising my own three children, I don’t think a single teacher ever told me what I should/could do to help my child find success in that teacher’s classroom. Here’s what I plan to say.

Parents help their students by not telling them the answer. They should hold back and ask leading questions that push their child to think for themselves. But I will also ask parents not to let their student get too frustrated. If that happens, stop pushing, send me an email, and bring your child in earlier the next morning to attend the free tutoring we have before school every day.

Parents should help students plan and carry out a schedule for doing their homework every night AND going to bed early so they get enough sleep. Believe it or not, parents sort of leave many middle schoolers to define their own bedtime. I get blog posts written by students at 10 or 11 pm. What kind of tomorrow will that student have?

Many parents trust their student to do their homework, and they send them off to their room to do it. Chances are there’s something more interesting in that room: a TV, a cellphone, a computer linked to the internet. I know adolescent kids are multi-taskers, but how many people really believe a teen or tween can resist all these temptations and give enough attention to their studies?

What do you think about these three points? Are they something you feel should be communicated to parents? I think by year’s end, most students would say they enjoyed my class, that it was hard, that they were treated fairly, and that they learned more than they ever dreamed they could learn.

I’m definitely not the most popular teacher. But I think it’s not about my popularity. It’s about helping students find a safe, supported place to learn.

The talented and flexible Marsha Ratzel is taking on 8th grade math this year, after years of science/math teaching in grades 6 & 7. Marsha is National Board Certified and teaches in Prairie Village KS. She wrote about changes in her teaching approach in this recent MiddleWeb article.

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1 Response

  1. Three cheers for these three points. They strike the right tone to me: straightforward and cautionary while supportive. The only thing I might add (but not to these letter) is the seeming magic that happens when a teacher starts off the school year by sending home to the parent/guardian of each of their students a “good news” note about their child–about a small triumph, a positive attitude, a thoughtful gesture, something they tried hard at, a winning smile…In my experience, these good new notes win parents, especially those we deem “hard to reach,” to your side. Parents are so used to hearing from teachers/schools only when their kid has done something bad.

    A teacher’s good news note can also encourage parents to share with you good news they may have about their kid–perhaps something you did in the classroom that their child talked about at home, with enthusiasm; perhaps an accomplishment or upbeat event at home or in the neighborhood, with relatives, at church.

    It’s amazing how much these small, positive, informal exchanges can change the dynamic between parents and teachers.

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