Introduction letters and penny loafers

September 4th, 2008

Some of you are just getting to the end of the first week of school, and some of you have been back for a couple of weeks now. We already blogged about some back to school memories and rituals our authors shared with us. As you settle in for a new school year, we just had to share two more reflections from Kimberly Hill Campbell, author of Less Is More, and Max Brand, author of Practical Fluency.

For Kimberly, the beginning of school means writing an introduction letter to her students:

I have just finished writing the one I will distribute to my students during our first day of class next week. In it I briefly share key moments of my journey in teaching and a bit about my family and hobbies. I particularly focus on what I have been reading and writing. In this year’s letter I highlight my reading of David Sedaris’ new essay collection, When You Are Engulfed in Flames; a collection of short stories by Elsa Marston, Santa Claus in Baghdad; and my addiction to mystery novels. I also note my efforts to write my own mystery novel—as well as articles about teaching and the occasional poem.

I then invite students to write back to me:
“Write me a letter (two to three pages). What should I know about you? Tell me more about yourself–as a reader? A writer? A learner?”

Whether it’s the high school students with whom I once worked or the graduate students with whom I now work, these letters are our first written conversation—our first step to building a relationship that nurtures learning. I treasure what students share with me. I note personal connections in a letter I write back and keep a tally of patterns that I share the next class period to illustrate how we link together as a community of learners. And an exchange of letters about reading, writing and learning continues throughout the year.

The first day of school makes Max think about Mrs. Rice, his first grade teacher, and penny loafers:

Growing up in Western New York there are ancient rituals and routines unique to the community. One tradition was the posting of class lists. Keeping to a farm conscious calendar, school did not begin until the Wednesday after Labor Day. Class lists were posted on Tuesday morning, bright and early, 8 AM. School age children and parents wait in line at the school door awaiting your fate for the coming school year. My first taste of this tradition informed me that I would carry on the Brand family tradition and have Mrs. Rice for first grade. YIKES!

I had met Mrs. Rice through my older sister’s stories. Her legacy was sewing up the boy’s blue jean pockets. If you were caught with your hands in them, watch out. My six-year-old mind conjured images of me walking around for the rest of my life with hands sewn into pockets. No sports, games or lunch. How was I going to retrieve my milk money?

Walking away from the school my sisters taunted me with tales about sewn pockets. With a tear in my eye I persuaded my mother to buy me penny loafers instead of my traditional footwear, tennis shoes. Penny loafers would allow me to carry milk money each day. Mrs. Rice would not sew my pockets and I would have two cents to buy milk to wash down lunch. Now, each August as school approaches I think about the class list line, rumors and running around for a year in tight penny loafers that squeezed my feet, but kept my hands free.

How did your first day of school go as a teacher? What strategies do you use to make the transition from summer easier for you and your students?

Entry Filed under: Classroom practice

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