What Families Really Need From a Teacher's Back-to-School Letter
By Tom Rademacher
Our school year is upon us, and many of us are scrambling to set up our classrooms, get those first few weeks planned, and convince ourselves that, yes, we have to wear real, actual, big-kid pants to open house.
The beginning of the year is an especially important time to connect with families, but we often use it for some of our least important communication. Now isn't the time for reminders about materials and copying and pasting your district's tardy policy. Now is the time to let parents know what is most important to you as a teacher, what big goals you have for their students, and start forming the team that will get you there.
For your consideration, here's my welcome letter this year. Feel free to use and adapt however you'd like.
Hello Parents, Families and Caretakers,
I would like to sincerely welcome you to the 2017-2018 school year. Before our year starts in earnest, I would like to take some time to introduce myself and my class to you.
I'm Tom Rademacher, your student's 8th grade English teacher. Since my first year of teaching, students have found they prefer to shorten my last name to "Mr. Rad." It was a little awkward at first, but I've come to embrace it. I'm a bit weird, often sarcastic, and I will spend most of my time and energy over the next year caring about your kid.
I have things I like to do, and lots of things from lots of years that I have planned out and ready to go if I need them, but I really want to listen to you, to your students, to their peers, and develop a class with and for them, and I want to be as open as possible to what that may be. I don't know exactly what will happen when we mix all of us together, but I will do my absolute best to teach to the students I have, to recognize the best parts of their potential, and to give them a year that is engaging and relevant and, if I'm lucky, occasionally fun.
This doesn't mean it will be all fun and games. We have a lot of important work ahead of us, and I take the work we do seriously. And so, rather than a list of units we will work through or books we will read, let me share what I know will be true about this year and this class:
- We will be talking about the world we are in, and it will challenge us, because we live in a challenging world.
- We will build a climate in our room that is safe for the sharing of stories and perspectives, for playing with, testing, and evolving ideas.
- We will explicitly talk about Race, Gender, Sexuality, Religion and other crucial pieces of our identities.
- We will seek tolerance for all but the intolerant.
- We will focus on empathy and cultural competency as essential components to understanding and engaging productively with our world, as foundational academic and social skills.
- We will talk about the root causes of some of the most beautiful and some of the most awful things that people do and make.
- We will search for and indulge topics and tasks that make us excited to read and write and make things.
If you're concerned about my role in these conversations, you should know that I take my role as a teacher very seriously. Though of course I have many thoughts and feelings about the way the world works, I do believe it is not my job to teach my perspective in class. I will not seek to change the minds or beliefs of any of my students. I will seek to help them understand the experiences of others.
We will read things from many perspectives throughout the year, and I seek to not present any one of those perspectives as an absolute truth. More than that, we will work on the developing the muscles to understand difference and disagreement in a productive way.
Oh, and you should know I'm not really big on homework. We will be working hard every day in class, and as long as your student is using their time well, they likely won't be bringing a lot of stuff home. If they need more than that, have them read a book. Have them write a story or start a blog. Have them build something or take something apart, or learn to code or write music. Inspiration is better than worksheets. Promise.
Please reach out to me absolutely any time you have any questions, suggestions, concerns, or observations. I work for you.
Tom Rademacher is the 2015 Minnesota State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). He teaches English in Minnesota. His book, It Won't Be Easy, An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching, is now available. Reach him at [email protected].
Vector graphic under Creative Commons license accessed through Pixabay.