Tag Archives: learning success

An Open Letter To My Future Students

Letter to Students

You don’t know me. Yet.

I am your future teacher.

As soon as you were put on my classroom roll, I cared about you.

Does that sound weird to you?

Well that’s just us teachers. We’re an interesting bunch. Most of us became teachers because how we feel about kids and wanting to help. We remember. It wasn’t always easy being the son or daughter and having to pull ourselves together to sit in a classroom and endure.

I thought I would write this letter to you to let you know the type of teacher I am and my hopes for this year. Maybe you’ll think this is odd or maybe you’ll like it. Maybe when you come on the first day of school this letter will make you feel a little better – I hope it will.

I don’t know much about you beyond your picture. You were smiling for the camera. I’m sure the people at home loved it. I wonder if they have that picture pinned to the refrigerator like I’ve done with my kids’ pictures. Expect to hear stories about them throughout the year and when I get home I will probably share stories about you with them.

Now that I’ve had my class roll about a week I’ve copied your name more than a few times for all kinds of reports or labels you don’t know about yet. I can spell your name pretty well by now, I just might mispronounce it on the first day. You can count on me doing my best to get it right pretty quickly. No one likes their name mispronounced. I didn’t – imagine all the ways Kaminski can be said out loud the wrong way. It’s a whole bunch.

I don’t know if you’re awesome at reading or if math frustrates you like it did me when I was in elementary school. I wasn’t always awesome at school. Maybe you are. Maybe you aren’t. Either way is ok with me. I just want you to be better at the important stuff by the time you finish our year together.

I don’t know much about your teacher last year even if you were at my school. I didn’t spend all those days with you last year, so I don’t know how it went. I haven’t hunted down your teacher to learn all about you because I want to us to get to know each other first.

Maybe you love school and all the things you might learn or maybe you hate every bit of it – I hope you don’t hate school. When I became a teacher I told myself I wanted to be the kind of teacher that students would want to see in the morning.

School can be a tough place, but shouldn’t be. Our classroom can be the kind of place where we all help each other. If we’re having a tough day and need a friend, we should be that person. If we’re having a great day, we should celebrate.

So I’m asking you to care.

Care about doing your best. Care about your friends and even those people you don’t know yet. Care about our classroom and making it the best place it can be. We’re going to spend a lot of time together and I want you to feel safe. Safe to ask questions and not always get the answers right. I want you to feel good about our class and how you’re treated.

About the humor thing. If I tell a joke that you think is corny or say something in a funny voice, it’s because I’m after a smile. I’ll try to wait a while before I start all that, although that’s hard for me. I like to hear students laugh. Sometimes students misunderstand and think that when I’m trying to funny, I’m not serious about your learning – totally untrue. That’s why I’ll go easy on the jokes at first. You need some time to get used to how we do things and who I am.

If I tell you a story it’s because I want you to learn something important. Sometimes stories are a lot more fun than just being told if something is right or wrong.

If I get serious with you it’s because I care.

You’ll probably hear me tell the class about this guy Randy Pausch who wrote the book The Last Lecture. He came up with a list of life rules and one of them is about when he was playing football as a kid. His coach was really tough on him one day. One of the assistant coaches came up to him after practice and said he noticed how tough practice was – how the coach had been riding him. Then that coach told him something that sounded crazy. He told that tired football player how lucky he was because if his coach didn’t care, he wouldn’t have ever been tough on him. He just would’ve walked away and not spent the time trying to make him a better player.

Maybe you’ll understand I care about you when I get disappointed. I have high hopes for you. Maybe you won’t understand.  I don’t think I would have gotten it when I was your age. I would have just thought the teacher was mean. I’m not mean.

By the way, when I was your age, I was really shy and quiet. I never wanted the teacher to call on me because I didn’t want to get the answers wrong in front of everyone. You should know it’s ok to guess and not get everything right. It’s really important that you try your best.

You aren’t my first class. You are my 14th.

For the last 13 years I have taught a lot of students who each year have come into my class about 180 times – that’s a lot of hellos.

Now let’s do just a little math, just a little I promise. That’s about 325 students since I started teaching. Well, there’s more than that because I taught some kids who came to my class just for math or social studies. So it’s probably closer to about 400 now.

That’s a lot of talking and teaching. That’s a lot of time together every year.

So you can trust the fact that I’m ready for you to arrive.

I’ve had some practice.

Remember when I told you about being better at the important stuff by the time you leave my class? When I say that I don’t mean math or reading or science or social studies or writing. I’d be a bad teacher if I told you I didn’t care about those things. I do want you to get better at those subjects so you’ll be ready for the next grade.

What I mean though is that I hope you’ll be a better person after we’ve spent a year together. I hope you’ll look around more, notice more, care more and share more. I hope you’ll learn more about yourself and really understand that you have gifts. They make you both awesome and different than anybody else.

Last thing, because this is getting kinda long and this isn’t reading class so we should finish up. You should know that I think about you when I go home and probably the next day when I go back to school again.

Teachers do that, you know. They don’t leave school and forget about what happened that day. If you had a bad day I will wonder why and what I can do to help. I’ll even wonder if I did something that made your day less than awesome. If you had a great day, I’ll be cheering even if you can’t hear me. Can you tell I want you to have a great year?

So, see you on the first day of school.

Remember to relax and be ready to start a great year together. I look forward to getting to know you.

The Ah Hah Moment: A Blessing and A Curse

Patience at the River

If students don’t get it immediately, they struggle.

And it’s exactly the same for me too. How about you?

I hate feeling inadequate. I dread not understanding the point when others around me nod in agreement to the person presenting.

A couple of years ago I sat in a math seminar next to my colleague who was responsible for teaching the advanced math students. I sat there dumfounded trying to complete the problem given to us. She sat back having already accomplished the task while I sat forward trying to just understand what was being asked of me.

That was not a good feeling.

As teachers we value the process of imparting knowledge.

We love posing a question, getting the class enthralled, seeing them engaged, and observing them overcome whatever challenges we’ve placed before them. Mission accomplished. Objective realized. Time to move to the next lesson or revel in the fact that we’ve earned today’s paycheck.

As students they just want it to be over.

They heard the lesson being introduced, perhaps vaguely, and they heard when the lesson was over. They either got it or didn’t. This either worried them or it didn’t.

Next up? They just want that quiz, a test and move on to the next thing. Or perhaps instead escape the classroom and wish it all away.

Sometimes they worry if they did ok. Sometimes not. And sometimes they will stare at the clock wondering when all of it will be over with.

This is of course difficult for us teachers to accept.

It is that time of year in which students dreaming the day away has become unnerving. Time is running out and the state assessments are coming.

Principals are stressed. County specialists are adamant that we review everything we have taught since the first day of school. Both are not helpful to my health nor to that of my students. We know those tests are coming. And if you’ve been doing this a while, we know what we have to do.

Today I gave yet another online assessment in hopes of preparing my students to take their online state assessment. They didn’t do well.

I didn’t take it well.

So I remembered the Ah Hah Moment Lesson I shared earlier in the year.

The Ah Hah Moment comes to each of us differently – yet it will come and we just need to be patient with ourselves.

Some students, just like us adults, will understand the lesson taught us the first time. This is of course unlikely for us as much as it is for our students.

That’s why I reiterate to them again that all of them have the Ah Hah Moment of Learning. Sometimes I ask them to share with us when the lightbulb has lit inside their skull. That’s when I proclaim the amount of time that has passed since the lesson began and I reiterate… the Ah Hah did indeed come.

Perhaps it will take another ten minutes or an hour. Perhaps it will take another day.

Or perhaps, and this does not gel well with instruction specialists, the Ah Hah Moment will occur next year – well past the assessment that they’ll take in a just a couple of months.

This doesn’t reassure me or my administrators, but it’s just how humans are made.

We are different after all.

And our Ah Hah Moment just isn’t going to be dictated by a clock or calendar.

We just need to be patient and believe that it will happen.