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A Letter to First Year Teachers

I was a teacher for twelve years. When I first started teaching I was enthusiastic and eager to learn everything and anything that I could use in my classroom. I wanted to take every course, every workshop, and read every book that would fill me with what I needed to know. I truly loved and cared about each and everyone of my students (even the one that kicked me but that’s a story for a different time). I got to school early and left late. I was dedicated to supporting their social and emotional well being and also their academic progress.

But during my first couple of years I actually failed as a teacher. I thought I was doing everything I needed to do to support my students but I failed to do one thing. Tell the truth. During phone calls with families and family-teacher conferences I shared the wonderful things that the student was able to accomplish during the year. I shared samples of their work and funny quotes the child said. However, I didn’t share everything. I hesitated to share the bad. If their child was struggling in math I sugar-coated the problem. If I discovered reading was a challenge I didn’t fully express how bad the problem was. I was afraid. I was scared to share bad news. I didn’t want the parent to be upset or blame me for their child’s struggles, so many times I didn’t say anything.

My failure to tell the truth could have seriously impacted a child’s progress. My failure to express my concerns may have delayed the necessary support the student required. I wasn’t truly looking out for the child’s best interested if I wasn’t sharing everything about the child with the family.

Eventually, I began to share the truth. To prepare for my truth telling conversations I would write down everything I needed to say. I would then practice my talking points. I would be SO nervous before making the phone call. I paced the classroom, talked to myself, and even distracted myself and changed bulletin boards or rearranged the seats even though I just did it earlier in the week. I was scared but I had the conversations anyway. I realized that in order for my students to get the best possible education I needed the family to be on my team. I needed to share the problem areas so we could work on what strategy would benefit the child, and we needed to do that together.

So as you start the 2018-2019 school year, and you prepare to communicate with families I encourage you to tell them the truth, even the hard stuff. Even the things that are difficult to swallow. Tell them that their child is failing, tell them that their child is having a hard time making friends, tell them their child is mean and is picking on other students. Tell them everything and then tell them how you are going to support them. They may get upset, they may even blame you but they still need to hear it. It’s vital for their child’s success even if they don’t see it that way in that moment.

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