So I briefly touched on this yesterday... I think. But I want to devote a whole post to it because I feel like it's that important. As teachers we all know how important it is to get to know our students. The more we know about them better we can individually help and push and encourage them. But it takes a long time to get to know all of them, especially in upper grades when you have tons of kids. I have 137 this year, give or take a few. It could take me months to get to know all of them, and for some it would be too late at that point. Now, some teachers like to talk to last year's teachers and get the "low down" on the kids. I don't. I know from experience that kids change A LOT between seventh and eighth grade. I don't like to start with any preconceived notions. Or, at least as few as possible. Of course they are super awesome or super trouble I've heard the name, but I don't go seeking any information other than the occasional name pronunciation. As far as that's concerned I tell them the first day "I don't know anything about you guys, so here's your chance to start fresh." Instead, to get my information I go to the source - their parents.
Every year on the first day of school I give my students homework (get your syllabus signed) and I give their parents homework. I send an information sheet that is two-sided and ask all about the kids. I ask about strengths and weaknesses, goals, what they enjoy, if they have a homework routine, if they have siblings, motivation, five words they'd use to describe their child, if there are any medical or personal problems I should be aware of, and then a big space for "Anything else you'd like me to know..." I do it every year, and every year I get GREAT info back from 80% of the parents. I call that a win. And every year I'm amazed and touched and humbled by the things they share with me. Most of them take it seriously and are brutally honest and very open. I find out about family situations, custody battles, health problems, self-esteem issues, and home life. I tell them if they want to send it back in a sealed envelope, that's fine, or if there is something they would rather email me or talk with me on the phone or in person about to just write a note asking me to call. I tell them "I want to know everything you want to tell me. Nothing is too minor or unimportant, and everything will be kept in confidence." I feel like it gives me a jump start in making connections with my kids, and it also build rapport with the parents because they know I genuinely care about their kids.
I just think it is such a great tool, and I really encourage everyone to do something similar! If you want mine, just comment below and I'll be happy to email it to you!