If your child has special needs of any kind, you are probably familiar with IEPs or 504s. They present a tidy clinical picture of who a child is as a learner, with the primary focus being on the child’s weaknesses and goals for the upcoming school year. When I started to think about all of the assessments, evaluations, summaries, and other clinical documentation that my children’s teachers had before they even met my child, I started to worry that who my child really is and what they are truly capable of would be lost in translation. Out of a desire to communicate a more complete picture of my children and establish a friendly and personal connection with the teachers, I began writing back to school introductions that I email to my children’s teachers before the school year starts (though any time in the beginning of the school year will be helpful).
I always write these letters as though they are coming from my child (although I do try to avoid child-like writing errors). As my children get older I have them help me figure out what to include. In the first paragraph, I always identify what aspect of the teacher/classroom/grade/school my child is most looking forward to. I do this to help establish that, despite the academic challenges, both of my kids do have aspects of school that they are excited about.
In the second (and maybe third) paragraph, I identify aspects of my child that the IEP or 504 may have no need to include. For example, my daughter has always gotten quite argumentative before an asthma attack and becomes very lethargic with a fever; if the teacher sees either of those behaviors it’s a sure sign that they need to contact mom or dad. In terms of my son, I always include his safety topics; those topics that he likes to talk about when he is anxious or scared (this year his topics will include Spongebob and Super Mario). I also include any special words that we use to help him manage a meltdown; for example, “do you want to take a few minutes to yourself?” All of these are strategies for not only helping my children but also helping the teacher be successful with the children. Caden has more easily warmed up to new teachers over the years simply because they knew what to talk to him about to break the ice.
In the last paragraph, I always state that mom and dad know how confusing all of the paperwork can be and they are always available for questions no matter how big or small anytime, and I include cellphone numbers where we can always be reached, indicate that texts are perfectly fine, and include an email address. If grade appropriate, I also volunteer us for anything that the teacher needs help with in the classroom. Honestly, if your child is on a special diet or has allergies, being the room mother/father can be beneficial to all involved. If you are worried about wandering and fieldtrips, being one of the volunteers that go along on the trip when possible helps to alleviate a little of the school year stress. We need to make sure the classroom is as hygienic as possible so we offer to provide cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer for the classroom. We don’t always get taken up on these offers, but I think it does set a cooperative tone that says 23 want to work together to help our child have a successful school year and positive experience.
I try to keep the letter to a page because I know that the teachers have a ton of things to prep before school starts. The purpose isn’t to restate the IEP or 504, but to simply introduce my children, introduce some of their strengths and interests, and offer to help in any way that we can to make the school year more successful. I also keep a copy of the letters for myself; they are a fun addition to school year books, especially when you can look back over the years and see even a tiny bit of improvement and growth.
Do you write letters to your child’s teacher? What do you / would you include?