Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Letter to the Teachers of My Children

Dear Teachers,

Tomorrow morning, I'm sending three kids your way. Thought you should know a little bit about them as well as a little bit about my wife and I and our feelings about education. And, so I'm sending this note.

First of all, you should know a little bit about the kids.

Our twin boys are soon to be nine years old and they are sort of excited about going into the third grade. I say 'sort of' because in the broad range of things to be excited about as boys of their age with 'very' best personified by going to the store to get a new pack of Warcraft Trading Card Game cards and 'not at all' being somewhere along the line of watching Bambi, I'd say from observation that going into third grade sort of falls in the middle.

As you are sure to soon discover: the boys love fantasy adventures, have read (or been read) all of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and would rather battle with wooden swords than play soccer.

They also love jazz and both of them play horns. If they are being shy, just ask them about the road trip we took this summer and about going to the jazz club in New Orleans.

My little girl is going into first grade. She is easily the smartest person in the family. She wins all the family spelling bees, loves handicrafts (we have a ridiculously large and growing collection of handmade pot-holders all over the house thanks to her ingenuity), and she has a memory sharper than most you will have encountered -- so you might watch what you say around her ;)

She is also a very precocious reader. Her favorite seems to be Asterix and Obelix. Ask her any question you want to about Ancient Gaul and Julius Caesar; if you're not up on your ancient history, you may want to read up over the next weekend or you're gonna catch an earful all year.

Oh yeah, and one more thing: all three kids are totally wired. And perhaps that gets into knowing something about my wife and I.

See, we are both people who hated school. It's not that we hated learning, quite the contrary... it's that neither one of us really feel that we did much learning in school.

Well, I can't speak for my wife, but I remember ditching homework assignments -- especially in English class -- to read the things that I wanted to read. I guess I was a bit like my daughter that way. I recall once getting in trouble for not getting the 'comprehension questions' finished in my American Lit textbook; I'd been up to the wee hours reading Ezra Pound. When I told my teacher what I'd been up to, the only piece of Pound he knew was the one short -- and completely un-representative piece -- in our textbook. That started me thinking that the dude was clueless. His later comments that a piece of Surrealist poetry that I'd turned in for a grade was very 'Joyce-like' confirmed my suspicions that he'd been a 'C' student in college.

That's not to say I've always been down on teachers. I still remember the strength I found inside myself each Friday afternoon when our middle school language arts teacher led us through meditation practice (I'm sure that wasn't in the curriculum). I still remember the music suggestions made by my seventh grade English teacher... and by large part, the early part of my music education was shaped by him. I still remember the teachers I didn't even have for class in high school but who cared enough to take in a teenaged freak and give a little advice and comfort; I try my best to honor them by taking on this role in my own work as a teacher today.

Where things really came together for me was in the advent of the Internet. And I'd say that, with regards to education, I'd be nowhere without the connections that the Internet has offered. Because this new century is all about connectivity; and I know now that I was certainly made for these times.

The Internet allowed me to learn on my own terms. It took learning out of the static environment of those musty old classrooms and textbook-wielding teachers and put it into the hands of a kid with dynamic interests and access to the minds of visionaries and big thinkers. It allowed me, and continues to allow me, to create myself according not to the doctrines of an arbitrary and politicized curriculum, but by the whims of my own mind, heart, and imagination.

And I've taught my children that that is what education is all about.

And so, there's a good chance that my kids aren't always gonna have their homework done. And there's a good chance they are going to do lousy on their State Testing.

There's also a good chance that my six year old daughter can run circles around most of yr eighth-graders in strategizing how best to take on a dozen dark creepers in the bowels of a dungeon. And there's a good chance that Miles Davis is the soundtrack to my boys' daydreams; and yes, they are ignoring you. It's not that they don't care; it's that they care a whole lot. Just not about what you might be teaching them at the moment.

So, I want to allay a few concerns you might have right off the bat.

First of all, I want you to know that you can talk to me and my wife as people. I'm a teacher. I know bs teacher talk. You don't have to use it with me.

Second, your honest opinions of my kids will not offend me. I'm not going to sue you or try to have you fired. Sometimes my kids are jerks. Sometimes they are rude. I know this. I'm their father. If you tell me that my kids are always perfect angels, I will not believe you; in fact, I'll probably think you are somewhat clueless.

Third, I expect you to be challenged. If you are not up for challenges, get out of teaching. Meaning: you had better read up on what's going on in education; I expect my kids' teachers to be professional, aware, and engaged with the cutting edge of 21st century education. If you can't cut it with what's going on in your (and my) profession, we're going to have problems. Read up.

Finally, I expect you to treat my children as citizens of the 21st century. I do not expect, nor want, you to teach them like you and I were taught. Computers do not scare me. Social networks do not scare me. And they don't scare my blogging, MMOG-playing, YouTube-watching elementary schoolers. I've been doing my part to teach my kids digital citizenship; I expect nothing less from you. I want you to experiment with the integration of social technology into your classroom and I'm not gonna freak out if there are problems along the way.

I am gonna freak out if you treat the computer as a glorified television set.

So, to wrap this up. Looks like we've got our hands full this year. Our world is rapidly changing and we're gonna have to help each other carry on through these tidal waves of change. I promise to do my part as a parent, and I'm going to count on you to do your part as a professional teacher. Together, we will raise the 21st century's first generation.

Be fearless. And I'll do my best to be fearless. This isn't a competition between us; but at the same time, it's not like we're on the same team versus the kids. I'm gonna expect a lot of you this year; and you should expect a lot of me. Let's start by connecting on Twitter. You know where to find me.




  1. Wow! Great idea and so well-written. Makes me think that I should do the same for my kids. How are you sending it to the teacher? Having your kids hand deliver it?

  2. I hope you do deliver it to the teachers and I can't wait to read about their response.

  3. I give parents an assignment on the first day to write to me almost what you have here...

    Now...send yours to your kid's teachers. I double dog dare you ;)

  4. Paul, that's a great idea! It would be very interesting to see what some of the parents wrote back. I might think about that for next week (when we get students...)

  5. Oh - forgot the second half of my comment.

    This was a great post. Makes me as a teacher wonder how many of my parents think this way - and how many of my parents will insist on things being done "as they always have been".

  6. I think it's safe to say that you're an outlier parent. Thinking that I'd like to have a whole classroom of kids like yours is unrealistic for this year and probably for any year. When and if your view is not outlying we'll no doubt have other outliers to challenge that dominance.

    Today, lots of parents only want their kids to fit in to the dominant culture or not be damaged by it as they grow up. We certainly don't have anything close to a collective agreement about the 'right' attitude for parents.

    Your post is so very useful because it asks us to think about what we're doing, as parents and as teachers. Thanks

  7. @ Devin and Paul and folks,

    Just emailed off a copy of the letter to the kids' homeroom teachers, art teachers, music teachers, librarians, GT Resource teachers, tech lab teachers, and administrators.

    Thank you for all of your encouragement. Even being in the teaching profession, (or perhaps exactly BECAUSE I am in the teaching profession), I always have a sense of trepidation come September. Here's to brighter educational futures and teachers and parents working together.

    - Shelly

  8. Shelly, as always, thanks for thinking out loud here.

    You've got me thinking about what our letter would say.

    And it starts with an interesting conversation within the family (at least in our family).

    Would love this to take off... "lettertoteacher" delicous/diigo tag, anyone?

  9. This is great for me to read. My son just started kindergarten this year with a teacher who told me she knows nothing about technology and I sense she is not interested in learning.

    My husband teaches high school computer science, I was a classroom teacher for 5 years and now work designing and facilitating online courses. As much as a would love to send a similar letter to my son's teacher, I fear her reaction. I am quietly freaking out as my son is surprisingly happy in the classroom despite the fact that from what I hear, his day sounds like crowd control and zoo-phonics even though he can read. I don't want to rock the boat too much while he is happy but will follow your advice here on how you work with teachers who are not challenging your children or preparing them for the 21st century. Looking forward to reading what follows.

  10. Nice article, but before you send it out to your kids' teachers, you may want to correct the two subject pronouns "I" and change them to object pronouns "me." ...thought you would like to learn a little about them as well as about my wife and ME. "And perhaps ...getting to know a little about my wife and I." You need to change the "I" to "me." You probably neglected to do you homework on the night that subject and object pronouns were assigned. Your children's teachers will take you more seriously if you use grammar correctly.

  11. *insert eye rolling emoticon here*

    Glad to know you know so much more than your kids' teachers do about what tbey should learn and how they should learn it. Why don't you just save the whole lot of you a bunch of trouble and home school your kids?

  12. Here's a challenge - practice what you preach and try this out with a class of 6 and 7 year olds - let us know how it works out!

  13. Why should a grammar correction elicit an eye roll? Can't we all help each other?

  14. I agree - good luck doing this with a whole class full of students, not enough computers to go around, and other parents who don't wanttheir kids exploring the internet. Home schooling sounds like your best bet, or move to a different country.

  15. What a great letter. I wrote a letter that I never sent to my children's teachers and posted it on my blog. I think if I actually sent mine I'd get a verbal brusing for it.

  16. Condescension rarely works with any human being, and teachers as a whole are used to hearing from parents, henceforth named "those who know better" on a weekly basis about how they should change their entire routing to suit one child.

    I think maybe if you offered to show them a few things, or to set up some technology in their classroom, maybe they'd be more amenable. It's pretty cliche, but actions speak louder than words.

  17. I'm curious to hear how your letter was received by the various recipients. Did you post about that in a separate posting?

  18. @ Mrs. Sullivan - Meaning and context is more important. "I" and "me" have the same meaning and the context is understood.

  19. @ Anonymous Sept 8th, 2009.

    (1) Yes, I homeschool :D.

    (2) I try it out with a bunch of 9 year olds whose class I've taken since they were 6. I wonder if that counts. I still think parents and community are more important than teachers. There's anywhere between 10 - 40 parents versus 1 class teacher.

  20. I find it to be completely obnoxious. This could only hurt a child.


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