How Should We “Meet the Teacher”?

13 Open House nights at 6 different schools, and it’s basically the same routine: 2 hours in the middle of the week on a school night, to come “meet the teacher” which actually means being rushed through a student’s schedule, complete with bells and passing periods (to understand what a student experiences—even though at some point most parents have been students with a schedule), and around 10 minutes to “visit” with a teacher who may or may not have other parents/guardians in the room.

Being completely honest: I’m not a fan of Open House/Meet the Teacher Night. It doesn’t actually allow for very meaningful conversations to truly happen, and I think it’s perfectly understandable why attendance is low when Open House is held on a school night. As teachers, we are usually just coming off a long day of teaching a set of still-new-to-us students. On the same note, most parents/guardians are either just getting off work, taking time off work, or dealing with finding a babysitter. Is this kind of meeting really convenient for teachers or parents?

Something I realized after tonight’s Open House is how happy I was to see my former students and their parents, and be able to (quickly) tell them how proud I am of them and how much they’ve grown since they’ve been in my class. Isn’t THAT what building a stronger school community is about? Building and MAINTAINING relationships? Not just when a kid is in your class but for the years after as well? But of course I only got to see a couple of former students because they were too busy following their new schedule that no longer includes my class.

A couple of weeks ago, I emailed my administrators about doing Open House differently next year and hope that changes are considered, because I knew it was too late to change things for this year. Still, I at least tried to do things differently in my own classroom:

Instead of trying to greet every parent/guardian at the door, I asked everyone to step in the room and sign in, grab an index card and explore the room if they’d like. Then I introduced myself and my student teacher, and brought their attention to our “Things We Read” and “Things We Write” table, and asked each student to find their writing to share with their parents.

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This opened student-led conversations. My student teacher took this a step further by encouraging students to get their SSR book from the classroom library and talk about it as well.

Finally, I explained how reading and writing are essential components of our class, and I asked each parent/guardian to use their index card to write a note to their student. I asked them to remember what it was like to be a teenager in high school, and to write about what they struggled with the most as a sophomore. Then I asked them to close the note with words of encouragement. The students were NOT allowed to see the cards; we are taping them to the inside of their class folders and they have to wait to see them until tomorrow or Friday. I told them we’re doing this as a reminder to our students that even though they may feel overwhelmed this school year, they do have support. I was moved by some of the notes and can’t wait for the students to see them throughout the year:

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I did ask some of the parents and students for suggestions on how “to do Open House”, and here are my favorites:

1) Have a dinner/snacks gathering of some sort either before, during, after. Make it causal.

2) Have it on a weekend and make it an open picnic or pot luck gathering. Teachers can wear specific school shirts and mingle with anyone and everyone.

3) THROW A BIG PARTY!

4) Have a pep rally for the parents; let them compete against teachers in a friendly game/competition.

5) Have it during PD week but ask that students/parents show up to help any and all teachers with room set up and prep.

Again, those were just some of my favorite ideas. I think Meeting the Teacher is critical but we’ve got to figure out a way to make it more meaningful for both parents and teachers. I’d be happy to hear anything that’s worked for your school!

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Found Poetry = Growing Confidence

I’ve seen different ways to do “Found Poetry” but today I decided to use it as part of my “launch” for our Writer’s Notebook and Workshop that we’ll officially begin next week.

I want my students to understand that yes, writing is HARD, but that there are a ton of strategies to use to help them begin writing.

Today we read Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family”. I chose this poem specifically because of its recent use in an iPhone commercial. I had a feeling some students would recognize it and was happy that some of them did after we read and watched it.

We looked at Angelou’s use of language; my kids pointed out her repetition and that she uses the word “WE” for a reason.

After discussing the poem, I told my students how sometimes writers use the words of other writers to help them figure out what they want to write about. We talked about how sometimes other people’s words, like significant quotes or song lyrics, might encourage us think of something we want to explore in our Writer’s Notebooks.

Then I had them look at the poem again for words that stood out to them or just phrases they liked, and asked them to try to create their own poem using Angelou’s words. I asked them to put a square or circle around their chosen words and then use a marker to mark out the rest. Here is the example I gave them:

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After they picked their words, I then gave them a blank page and told them to write what was left in any way they wanted, because poetry doesn’t have to look a certain way.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

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The student who created the poem below said, “I don’t know if this means anything”, and I told him those five words hold more meaning than we could discuss in a class period:

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And finally, the product from my most reluctant participant, who told me he hates reading AND writing:

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When he handed me his paper he expected me to tell him it was wrong or to do it over; he said “here, I did it” and rolled his eyes. And I read it and looked him right in the eyes and said: “I LOVE THIS; I can’t wait to read this one for the class!” And it’s because I knew they would love it too; his choice of words are HILARIOUS and spunky and while they’re not “right” by Standard English, they definitely make sense.

When the class–which is 7 girls and 17 boys, heard it, laugher erupted. One of my girls said, “That’s what’s up! Spanish is sexy!” Some might think it inappropriate but the entire class said this new poem was a cool way to use the words from such a serious poem. Who knows, maybe I’ve got the next King of Comedy sitting in my classroom!

What I forgot to say is that at the end of class I read each of these anonymously, but I knew what poem belonged to which student. Watching each student silently beam with pride as they heard their classmates positively react to their chosen words was all the evidence I needed to know their confidence grew a little today, and I can’t wait to watch it flourish this year!