Best Practices: A True Story!

As a teacher, I have learned that begging, borrowing and stealing the amazing ideas of other teachers can make my life easier. Call it collaboration. Call it working smart not hard. I always keep my ear to the ground, listening for little nuggets of wisdom. Great activities, projects and learning opportunities can come from the strangest places. I’d like to share one of my best practices that I came up with during my first year.

One of my best practices came out of a terrible incident my first year of teaching. I had a student who was stuggling in Math. He wasn’t into the school experience, as he put it. He came to class late everyday and it was clear that his intention was to socialize rather than participate. By the end of the first semester, this young man had under forty percent in his math class.

Having just graduated from University, I was well aware that this mark was unacceptable and we needed to fix it. I called home almost everyday after school to confer with his parents. I would get the answering machine and would leave a message. As the semester progressed, my messages grew in length. Once a week, I would send home a letter asking the parents to phone. I was worried that I wasn’t able to speak to his folks, but with the typical first year teacher assignment, I had over two hundred kids and seven different subjects to worry about. I chatted with his previous teachers, and they let me know this wasn’t his first issue in school.

Before I could blink, report cards came and went. Parent-teacher interviews were upon us: my first parent-teacher interviews ever!

At this particular school, a K to 8, interviews were held first come, first served in the gymnasium. All the teaching staff were lined up around the gym facing the middle of the gym. Chairs were set up for the people waiting for their interviews. I had all my notes, print offs for parents and some marking in case I got a free moment. I was so ready.

My first interview (and no, this hasn’t been modified for your reading pleasure) was my failing student’s dad. He came up, sat down and started yelling. It turns out that he was also a teacher and was appalled that I hadn’t contacted him to tell him that his son was failing. I was gobsmacked.

I informed him that I had sent him six letters, phoned him eight times and left increasingly long messages. What more did he want?

He had not received any of the letters. He had not heard any of my messages. His son may have had difficulties in Math, but he knew how to play the game. Turns out that this ingenious child had been racing home and erasing my phone messages. He was responsible for collecting mail and had been throwing out my letters. He knew how to win the game. I had been bested by a grade fiver! Thank goodness I had made notes and was able to show his dad that I did indeed try to contact him. Needless to say, my first interview did not go well. My first interview left angry and I didn’t feel the greatest about that moment. I think the whole gym was able to hear how badly it went.

Out of that moment, I decided to work on a communication strategy that would be less vunerable to the craftiness of young people. For semester two, I sent home a letter requesting parent’s personal email addresses. I also requested student email addresses. I then started sending out weekly emails letting parents and students know exactly what was planned, assignments and homework expectations. It was fun in a way as I changed it up weekly. Sometimes I made it read like a menu! It truly opened up communication in a quick and simple way. The parents and the students knew exactly what was expected and where we were going. Setting up the distribution list took a bit of time, but after that it was simple. When I had issues with students, a quick email to the parent and the student kept everyone in the loop. Awesome!

This is one of my “best practices’. It has served me well. If you want to use, please be my guest. I know it is not very unique eight years after my first year but it is my favourite! If you have a favourite that you don’t mind sharing, I would love to hear it!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kim
    Sep 05, 2010 @ 20:41:07

    Hi Melissa,
    It’s so nice to read about a teachers perspective.
    I would like nothing more than to have a weekly or even bi-weekly report of what’s happening in the classroom, as kids tend to just say that their day was fine or they can’t remember what they did.
    Especially If there are any issues it’s better to know sooner rather than later.
    Great blog!


  2. missateaches
    Sep 05, 2010 @ 23:45:33

    Thanks Kim! It is a pretty easy set up, and I found it more effective than a newsletter. Imagine if it were accompanied by a blog? You would be the most informed parent!!! I think that most schools will encourage their teachers to move this way in the future and hopefully it will happen for your kids soon!


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