Parent Communication Part 1: Start Positive!

It’s that time again! Well, uh, for those of us not in Australia or other places like South Korea that start the school year in Feb/March… I am talking about Back to School Time, obviously. Some teachers have already recently opened their doors to a new class of students, while others are just a few weeks away.

While getting my classroom ready and lesson plans prepped (just kidding, no lessons have been prepped yet) I’ve been reflecting on how I start every school year. I decided to do a series of blog posts about Teacher-Parent Communication. The one thing they never taught us eager educators in college. Yeah, it’s a gross oversight if you ask me.

For the next four blog posts I will cover the following topics:

  1. Start Positive (this post!)
  2. Build a Community
  3. Value Your Parents Expertise
  4. Take Notes!

At the beginning of every school year I want my first form of communication with my students’ parents to be a POSITIVE one. Because there may come an email or phone call not too long after… that is not entirely positive. First impressions are important. Imagine  if the first thing your students do when they meet you is pointing out all of your flaws as a teacher? Ew.

Therefore, I make it a goal to send a positive note home, about each one of my students, within the first two weeks of school. This keeps me accountable to get to know something about all of my students quickly and see specific skills, talents, or behaviors they have that add value to our class. I am a firm believer that every child who comes into my class adds value.

How you send this positive note home is up to you. I tried doing physical notes home and sometimes they wouldn’t make it to the parents (because I teach the littles). I have worked at schools where we are not allowed to call directly, and I have worked at schools that have not allowed me to email parents directly (yes, that’s a real thing, and it was hard). It depends on where you are and what works best for you. I have landed on sending emails.

Here are two examples of emails I sent at the beginning of last year. I changed the names but the rest is the same. Find something specific about each student to give positive feedback on. They don’t need to be long. My goal is to send home two or three a day,  the first two weeks of school. You may be wondering if two weeks to get a note home is still too long to hear from the teacher, especially if you teach younger kids who are just beginning their educational journeys. Because I don’t have any visible superpowers (yet) and don’t have the time or energy to do 25 emails within one week, especially the first week of school,  I make sure to communicate with the entire class of parents what we do in the first few days of school. (I cover this more in Part 2: Build a Community.)

Email Example 1:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Smith,

I wanted to send you a quick note to tell you how much I love having Jane in class. She is responsible and kind, and always helping me remember things I may forget. She’s a great classmate, too!

Kind Regards,

Melody Welton

Email Example 2:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Robinson,

Joe made my heart smile big time today! He had a few tearful moments this morning as he is learning all of the new classroom routines. Joe couldn’t remember his floor spot, so he didn’t move to the rug when the rest of the class did. I asked him why he stayed in his chair and was impressed when he was able to communicate, “I forgot where my spot was.” 

This afternoon he gave me a quick side hug when entering the classroom after putting stuff in our cubbies 🙂 I look forward to getting to know Joe better this year!

Warm Regards,

Melody Welton 

Who can’t wait for the never ending sea of laminating and cutting to begin?!

Parent Communication Part Two: Build a Community, is up next! 

Who Wants to be a Millionaire Teacher?

As teachers, we all know about UBD (backwards design) model, where we start planning by having the end in mind (what students need to learn). How many of you have a financial plan? Do you know how much money you need to start saving for your retirement? What is your “number”?

I had the privilege of sitting down at the home of the author of the best selling book, Millionaire Teacher, Andrew Hallam. He’s a teacher at my school here in Singapore and teaches personal finance in the high school. He graciously had some of us new teachers over to his place for a talk on investment and good tips for us international teachers.

Andrew shared with us the analogy of the UBD model and then grilled us with these tough questions. As we failed to answer his questions quickly and accurately, we knew we were in some trouble. It was the reality check that we needed. I think he said it best when he said that most international school teachers live in a bizarre dream world. It seems like a dream job, long vacations, cheap living costs, and amazing travel opportunities.

However, what they don’t tell us when we sign our contracts is that when we leave public school systems in the states and give up our pensions, those are substantial assets that we are loosing. Also, since most international schools provide housing, we are not going to have mortgage-free homes when we retire. So that brings us to another question, where will we live? Will we have the money we need to plan for that?

Now, if you didn’t spend many years in the public school system, and you are a young new teacher, trying this international school thing, don’t fret yet. Start saving now for retirement, by putting away money each month and you can be well prepared for retirement.

Andrew talked to us about having our “number” that we need to reach in order to retire. This is an amount that you calculate based on how much money you need to live for a year, when you retire, not including mortgages (hopefully you shouldn’t be paying a mortgage into your retirement). He goes through the steps for finding your number and all that good stuff on his blog post here: Savings and Retirement Planning for New Teachers

I’ve figured out my “number”, so now what?

Make sure to read Andrew’s book, Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School. I just started reading his book, and he writes it in a way that makes it engaging and easy to understand for us non-finance people! It was the first financial book that I didn’t want to put down.

Also, be very careful about signing up through financial services/advisors that may come to your school to invest your money for retirement because they usually have 3-4% investment costs on variable annuities, which in the end means they get a lot of your money! Many thanks to Andrew for organizing this talk with us. I know I definitely learned a lot and already made some changes in how I’m handling my finances and saving for retirement.

If you have any other questions, please leave a comment! Maybe we can have a follow-up Q&A with Andrew on a future post.

The First Grader

A few days ago, I was looking to see what movies were playing in the local theater in Korea and I came across a movie called The First Grader that was coming out soon. I clicked the link to the website and watched the trailer.

After watching the trailer, I knew I had to watch it. So I checked iTunes and saw that I could rent the movie. This is a story I remember hearing about a while ago. This is based on a true story of an 84 year old man living in the rural parts of Kenya. He wants to go to school after the Kenyan government announces free education for everyone. He desperately wants to learn to read and enter the 1st grade. There is a lot of opposition and challenges that he faces on his journey. This is a remarkable story of a student and a teacher fighting for the opportunity of education for all. As a teacher, these are the stories that inspire me and remind me of the impact I can make.