At the beginning of school year, our kids head into their classrooms loaded down with three (plus) bags of new supplies. They excitedly see old friends and then nervously introduce themselves to their teacher. It’s a nerve-wracking and thrilling time—for parents, students, and their teachers.
Each school year, since my oldest started kindergarten, I’ve written a letter to the teacher about my child. Overwhelmingly, the response from teachers has been positive. I have many friends who are educators, and like when they’re teaching kids, learning about their students has the same motto: knowledge is power. If the teacher knows more about the child, they can more effectively teach the child.
I have four kids, three of whom are now in school. I started writing the letters to talk about adoption, since all of our kids were adopted. It’s important to us that school projects and assignments are inclusive of our kids, not othering like so many timeline, family tree, and biology projects are.
It’s important that your letter is as detailed as possible, but not ridiculous. This isn’t the time—nor is it ever the time–to make bizarre requests like make sure sweet Tommy has meditation time from 2:06 to 2:14 each day. Teachers aren’t babysitters, nor do they get paid enough to deal with extra parents who treat them like nannies rather than educators. That said, here’s what you should include in your letter to maximize your child’s learning experience this academic year.
Share your child’s positive qualities.
I love to start my letter by stating my child’s name and their positive qualities. For example, I share that my son is enthusiastic, inclusive, and humorous. This helps the teacher understand what makes the child tick, and what they might expect when they interact with your child. It’s easy to launch into any problems or concerns first, but don’t. Start the letter on a high note.
Share your child’s areas of progress.
What has your child struggled with in the past, but has made improvements on? For one of my children, they used to struggle a lot with capitalization and punctuation. This is an area they’ve made vast improvement. Letting your child’s teacher know this helps them encourage the child in this area, praise the progress, but also be on the lookout for any backsliding or struggle. The areas of progress don’t have to just be academic. If your kiddo has made progress in anger management or self-advocacy, let the teacher know.
Share your child’s challenges.
What are areas that your child struggles with currently? Remember, these can be academic, like recalling subtraction facts, or something behavioral or social, like making new friends. Nothing will shock the teacher, so be as honest as possible. The teacher will not be offended if you share that your child prefers lunch over visiting the library. In fact, this gives your child’s teacher a clue that maybe your child struggles to read, is overstimulated by big group activities outside the classroom, or that socialization is a big part of what motivates your child to stay engaged in learning.
Share the areas in which your child excels.
What subject is your child great at? You definitely want to share this with the teacher, because sometimes kids who are bored act out. If they aren’t be challenged enough with the work they are given, they might begin to act out behaviorally. Let the teacher know if your child loves to read, if your child prefers recess over math class, or if your child is an exceptional team player (while solo work can cause distress).
Share your child’s special needs or diagnoses.
If your child has any special needs (again, not any ridiculous special treatment requests) or diagnoses that are relevant to your child’s education, let the teacher know. Trust me that it’s easier to give the teacher a heads up than to watch problems unfold and then be like, “Oh, and by the way, Ansley has ADHD.” Some parents worry that sharing a child’s needs is the same as “labeling” the child. It isn’t. A diagnosis is just that: a diagnosis. It’s also a starting point to have an ongoing conversation with your child’s teacher. I repeat: do not blindside the teacher down the road. It’s unfair to both your child and the person teaching them.
Share what has worked (and what hasn’t) in the past.
Does your child’s behavior spiral when the teacher uses a behavioral clip chart system? Perhaps that’s because your kiddo has anxiety or doesn’t like their behavior to be on display for the entire classroom. Keep in mind though, what worked (or didn’t) isn’t always an indicator of what will or won’t work this year. One of my kids absolutely hated behavioral clip chart systems, causing the aforementioned anxiety. I mistakenly assumed that this meant another of my kids wouldn’t, either. This year, I’ve been surprised that the kid I thought would freak out over the teacher’s baseball-style (strike system) for behavior absolutely loves it.
Just because you share this information, don’t expect the teacher to tailor the classroom experience to your child. There’s no growth in that, nor is that a reasonable request. However, by sharing more details about your child, you give your child the best possible start to the new school year. You also give the teacher the opportunity to understand your child’s needs. I know many, many teachers, and they are passionate about what they do. They want their students to do well, to be engaged in their learning, and to enjoy the school experience. By writing a letter to your child’s teacher, introducing your child, you’re playing an important role in setting your child up for a successful school year.