I’ve already found that one of the most challenging aspects of teaching middle school is that the kids are so, so reluctant to open up. I’m aware that it may take WEEKS to feel true connections with the majority of my students. One of the major roadblocks is that almost 100% of my students have had one or more teachers quit partway through their journey together or simply not show up at all. As a young, white, fresh-out-of-college teacher that hasn’t even lived in this city for longer than four months, my appearance and (lack of) background makes it tough for my kids to believe I’ll be any different. Thus I’ve spent an ENORMOUS amount of extra time trying to put structures in place that show that I’m dedicated to forming strong relationships with them as individuals.
On the first day I gave out a lengthy student survey for each one of my kids to complete. I took them home on Monday night and wrote comments, notes, and extra questions. On Tuesday in class and for homework my students finished them and then wrote ME two questions.
I also wrote a parent letter that included my classroom vision and the goals I have for my students academically. On the back was a parent survey.
I re-typed all of the student and parent responses into a 9-page spreadsheet that includes my rosters, parent contact information, and extensive notes about each child from the student responses AND their parents responses. I keep all of the information on the clipboard I carry while I teach. So far the comments have been extremely helpful in the way I approach interactions with individuals and they way I chose to re-direct students when they make decisions that aren’t in their best interest. There are also some parents who specified exactly what they’d like me to do in order to be the best teacher I can possibly be for their child– for example, texting them weekly about progress, arranging seating in a particular way, and ensuring that their child has physical, emotional, and psychological accommodations that might not be listed elsewhere.
In my third block, my toughest, this has already made a HUGE difference. Instead of calling children out by name when they need to redirect, I write them a sticky note with a reminder. I also write note to the students who are role modeling superb decision making and who are on their way to accomplishing their goals. Since public redirection is sometimes unavoidable, I also try to write notes as a way to repair the relationship, to tell the child that I was firm with them because I believe in their potential and I want to help them accomplish the goals they listed on their surveys. It takes an enormous amount of time. But I am SO confident that it will transform some of the negative behaviors I’m beginning to see transpire and also help me forge strong bonds between students and their parents. We’re in this together.