What I Learned from Writing Notes to all of my Students #lastbell

Classroom Management, Instruction

Y’all.  It’s May.  And, in case you aren’t aware, May is hard.

I have a love / hate relationship with this time of year.  On one hand I love the weather; I love seeing the flowers blooming; I love how well I know my kids at this time of year; I love how comfortable we all are together (which means we can tackle some weird / difficult/ crazy stuff–A Streetcar Named Desire, anyone?).  On the other hand, I hate the pollen and the bugs; I hate the increased absences due to sports and field trips and events; and, let’s face it, sometimes we’re all a little too comfortable at this time of year, meaning things start to fall apart in the classroom.

It’s also tough because while I’m wrapping up this school year–which has been one of my favorites in ten years–I’m beginning to think about next year.  I’m already anxious to get started with new ideas and plans, so my enthusiasm for the current year wanes.

Despite all of this, I am determined to finish this year the way I have planned to–and failed to–the past two years, by writing a note to each of my students.  I want my students, even (or especially) the ones who I haven’t had the strongest connection with, to leave my classroom knowing that I care about them and wish to see them succeed.  After speaking to my friends Thea and Emily who have done this before, I was convinced that I needed to make time for it this year.

The kids don’t know they have notes coming, and I plan to hand them out after exams on their way out for summer.  I don’t want it to feel like a “thing”–like, I gave you a note, now you give me one kind of deal.

It’s definitely been a labor of love, and along the way I’ve learned a bit about myself, my classroom, and my students.  Here are the lessons I have learned from this endeavor:

  • Not sure which classes or students you connected with the most?  Try writing a note to each student in that class.  You’ll know quickly.  I already knew that my 2nd period and I hadn’t grown all warm and fuzzy about each other.  It was a tough class of kids who were extremely reluctant to speak (aka SILENT).  Group work? Silent.  Whole class discussion?  Silent.  It was SO weird!  Meanwhile in 5th and 7th period, we were laughing and having a good ol’ time most days!  I like all the kids in 2nd period, but we just had no real connection.  And it became quite obvious as I tried to personalize notes to each of them.  What do I know about this student that makes him or her different?  What personal connection did we make?  Crickets.  I did finally finish their cards, but it took at least twice as long as it did for my other classes.  It made me sad to realize that we hadn’t bonded the way I would’ve liked us to, and it made me think about things I need to do differently next year to be sure this doesn’t happen again.
  • Write things down! Next year I want to start a little notebook where I jot down memories each day (that might be a stretch for me) so I can remember who did what by the end of the year.  Some events, comments, stories really stood out to me so I could mention them in a student’s note, but others were harder for my cobwebby memory to recall. 
  • I’m thankful for the connections I did make.  When I was able to come up with specific things for each student–memories from class, stories from their lives, events or accomplishments from the year–I was so happy to have made that connection with the student.  And I know those connections are what is most important.  The relationships built with each student are way more valuable than reading The Great Gatsby or writing an argument essay.  As a matter of fact, I believe that without the relationship, doing either of those things would be measurably more difficult. 
  • I don’t need to know everything about every student to make a connection with them.  I feel like I have a decent balance in my classroom.  I know my students pretty well through conversations and discussions, but we don’t communicate via Snapchat (shudder) or text or anything like that (although some do follow me on Instagram, but I keep that pretty impersonal).  I don’t need to be their friend to have a relationship with them.  That might sound harsh, but I think these days the lines are getting a little too blurry, and I don’t believe that bodes well for our profession.  To each his own, but I make sure my students understand where the line is–I am here to be your teacher, mentor, coach, cheerleader–but we’re not friends.  I have some who look me up after graduation so we can grab a bite to eat together–then we’re officially adult friends. πŸ™‚
I’m sure there are more lessons to be learned, but these were the four that really stood out as I was scratching out notes for the past two weeks.  
I am excited to hand each student their note, even though I won’t see them while the read it or know what they think of it.  I am just glad they’ll know that I cared right up until the last bell (and beyond).  
So, while the year is winding down (9 days–not that I’m counting…yeah right, I’ve been counting for weeks), and the schedule is nutso, and the kids are hyper as all get out, and we’re ridiculously exhausted, remember that there’s still time.  Whether 9 days or 19 days or 29 days (heaven forbid!), there is still time to let your kids know that you care.  The kids still need you.  Make it count!
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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Michelle Brezek
    May 17, 2016 at 1:38 am

    so awesome of you – I used to do the same thing before I became a Literacy Coach, except I wrote them individual letters and then *told them to write me back (and then bound those letters into a book every year). You way is so selfless, so kind, I just love it and I know your students will treasure those letters!

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