Summer was exciting as a child and so was getting mail. As soon as school let out, literally the day after school ended, I remember checking the mail multiple times a day waiting for my classroom placement letter. In one school I attended they taped the class lists inside the front windows of the school building. Luckily we lived close so we could swing through the school’s bus loop often.
There was something special about finding out who my teacher would be and calling my friends to see if we’d be in class together. Then it was off to buy school supplies aka Christmas in August! As a teacher, the excitement is the same. I still check my email for my class list weeks before I know my inbox will have mail and don’t even get me started on a good Staples run before the year begins.
But for me, the summer letter also marks the day my school year begins. On every first day of school since kindergarten (yes, even my first days of school as a teacher) my mom has told me, “You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So here’s a quick look into what goes into my summer letter… my first impression.
My first goal of my summer letter is to make my students eager to return to school. Some students are like I was growing up. Others are not. I want to show everyone that this year is going to be different. In the past I wrote them a letter, which quite frankly, lacked the gusto I wanted it to have. This year I created a golden ticket instead. It didn’t say much but that was the point. It was just enough to pique my students’ curiosity. I question whether students still call each other when they open their summer letters but if they do I want them screaming into the phone, “Did you get a golden ticket?” Before school began I ran into one of my student’s parents and she said her daughter was running around the house, jumping up and down, asking everyone, “What does this mean?” Success!
SUMMER OPEN HOUSE INVITATION
Each summer I choose a few days to invite families into the classroom before school begins. I can’t imagine being a parent having to send my child on the bus the first day not knowing who he/she would be spending time with that day. So I pick days that I’ll be in school, putting the finishing touches on the room. This is a great chance for me to meet the students and their families in a non-threatening way, before anything has happened to put a possible dent on our relationship. It also takes the pressure off of the first day of school and Open House because I meet the majority of my class over the summer.
Next, I include a one-page letter telling the parents a little bit about me. I share where I went to college, what I studied and some of my interests. I also stress how much I care about my students and how communication is of the utmost importance to me. This letter sets the tone so the families know my priorities. I work really hard to back up my words with action during the school year!
MILLION WORDS OR LESS & FAMILY PHOTOS
The next page is homework for the parents, another way I win over my students. I ask each guardian to describe his/her fifth grader in a million words or less. I leave this extremely open-ended on purpose. The families typically write about what is most important to them. Despite the lack of parameters I always learn why the student is special to the family, what challenges the child faces and what obstacles he/she has overcome. I learn about the child’s interests and sometimes unresolved frustrations with the school are mentioned here.
In the second part of the letter I ask for family photos to be sent in for our family bulletin board. Quickly we create a huge collage of our scholars’ pets, friends, cousins, parents, and siblings. The students love having a piece of home in the classroom and we all enjoy learning about each other by looking at the photos.
Cue Staples commercial. “It’s the most, wonderful time of the year! They’re going back!” The less exciting, albeit necessary, supply letter comes last.
The students don’t know it yet but the letters are printed on paper that matches the four house colors for our competition. It’s all about the details! And just like that, in the rip of an envelope, I’ve made my first impression for the school year.