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August 20, 2012 My Back-to-School To-Do List, Part One: Getting to Know My Students By Julie Ballew
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Welcome friends and colleagues to the most exciting time of the school year! Kids are not yet back in my school, so my fellow teachers and I are all buzzing around the building, preparing for their arrival and sharing ideas and concerns about the mile-long list of tasks to be accomplished. 

    Unless you are looping with your class, this year will begin with a clean slate and the arduous task of getting a class full of kids “up and running.” We have to teach — or re-teach — them everything: restroom procedures, when to sharpen pencils, and how to manage their supplies, not to mention how to get along with a new combination of friends! No matter how exhausting the work, though, I absolutely love this time because of the potential for each student. Before I worry about teaching them how to order lunch or walk down the hallway, I focus on a very short to-do list: getting to know my students, and creating a strong classroom community.

    Getting to Know My Students

    My first priority in every new school year is to get to know each student — to really get to know them, beyond their test scores and the notes from last year’s teacher.  To do this, I seek the help of their first teachers: their parents.  n the past, amidst the hustle and bustle of Meet the Teacher Day, Parent Orientation, and Back-to-School Night, I was lucky to get the opportunity to talk to any one parent at length, much less remember the details of what they said! I knew, though, that they were my best resource for getting to know their child, so I sent each parent a letter asking them to write me something about their child.


    Letter with return envelope

    (Click here to download a PDF of the letter.)

    This letter serves two purposes: the parents or caregivers get to share everything wonderful about their child. They have no length restriction, and can tell me things about the child that no former teacher can. I ask them to include their hopes and expectations for the year. This helps me make sure we were all on the same page, and I use this information to anticipate possible bumps in the road in terms of expectations.

    Parents don’t get many opportunities to boast about their children in school, and this provides them with a forum where they can do just that. I love hearing about what makes each child so special, and seeing them through the eyes of a parent gives me a different point of view.

    I make a habit of going through each letter and highlighting the most interesting qualities of each student. I keep a running list, and this becomes an early talking point with my students. I use this information of their unique qualities to help build a classroom community. And that is the subject of my next post so hope you’ll join me next week!

    (Click on image to see enlarged version.)




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