It’s that most exciting time of year for teachers, Anticipation Season! School supplies are on sale, new organizer tools have been bought, color-coded charts are being made, and absolutely anything is possible for next year’s class. Actual students haven’t shown up yet, and for those of us who are optimists, this means our dreams are full of bright-eyed, eager children who love to learn and enjoy coming to school.
However, Anticipation and Planning Ahead will only get you so far. Some years, my elation ended on Open House night as soon as I met my actual students. My dreams and extensive planning were revealed for what they really were – unrealistic visions of a perfect classroom. Meeting my students brought reality crashing in – some students didn’t have the money for school supplies, others couldn’t focus long enough to have a conversation with me, and some parents seemed to be mad at me already and we’d just met minutes ago.
The truth is there’s no point in making detailed plans for the beginning of your year. As Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” In other words, we can make loose plans for what we want our students to accomplish based on the standards, but we can’t know how to teach them until we know them. How much do our students already know? What are their strengths? What worries them? What motivates them?
Donald Graves, guru of writing instruction, once said, “You are not ready to really teach a kid until you know 10 things about his or her life outside of school.” When we really know our students, we respond to them as individuals and they do likewise. Kids who feel like their teacher knows them and understands them will work much harder than those who feel like a number in a crowd.
How do we learn at least 10 things about our students’ lives? One of the simplest ways is through letters. Smokey and Elaine Daniels have written a great book called “The Best-Kept TeachingSecret” about the power of written conversations between teacher and student, parent and teacher, and student to student. They recommend, as DebbieMiller did years ago, that teachers ask parents to write them a letter sharing three important things they should know about their child. I found that asking parents for input right away not only gave me valuable insight into their child, but also set up the parent and me to have a closer relationship from the very beginning of school. Asking about their child showed that I cared and wanted to start the year off right.
The Daniels’ also suggest the teacher sending “get-to-know-you” letters at the beginning of the year. While this can feel like a lot of effort for teachers, it is often a highly anticipated event for the children. One of my teacher friends shared a picture of her daughter so eager to read the letter she knew was coming from her teacher that she tore into the electricity bill, convinced her teacher had disguised her letter inside. If kids are this excited about communicating with their teacher before they’ve even met us, think of the power we wield once they’re actually in our rooms. Our every word and action matters.
Enjoy Anticipation Season! It’s a great energy boost during a time when we really need it. But at the same time, think of ways to gather the information you need to make your plans realistic for the students you have this year, who may be very different than those from last year. Your students will thank you for it.