Open letter to my seniors

A few weeks ago, Maha Bali wrote a wonderful post entitled “Things We Forget to Tell Our Students,” which inspired me to write this open letter to my seniors.  I shared the letter with my class at our Kidblog page. (The assignment I refer to is my seniors’ final, a reflective letter.)

Dear Seniors,

Thank you for sharing this year with me. I decided to write this open letter to all of you as my “final exam” for our course. This is not a required reading, and you don’t have to reply; however, I would welcome any responses that you might want to share.

This has been my fourteenth year as a teacher, but only my second year teaching seniors. As a result, I still make a lot of mistakes, and I also learn a lot every day.

One of my insights from this year is that we should use more repetition with our strategies. Instead of learning as many strategies, it might make sense to practice a few key strategies more often. For example, we might do the peer review together the first time, and then use the same process every time we write an essay.

Another insight: I need to give more feedback while assigning fewer grades. Next year, I plan to grade fewer assignments, but I plan to write more feedback on exit slips to help my seniors adjust and correct misunderstandings.

This year, I thought a lot about deadlines & due dates. I think I’ve been doing this the wrong way. Specifically, I need to do a better job of communicating about why we have deadlines – for example, June 3 is a deadline because I need to sign blue [check out] cards on June 4 – and I need to be more flexible about when people turn work in when there isn’t a hard-and-fast deadline that I don’t have control over. Deadlines do exist in the “real world,” but people get extensions all the time – and I need to be a bit more patient and a lot more clear about the reasons I have for the due dates I set.

Teaching students how to improve at reflecting is another area where I need to improve. Instead of reflecting once in a while and then at the end of semester, reflection – and lessons on how to reflect – should be something we do several times a month, if not every week.

I also know I need to spend more time community-building, and I need to spend more time listening to my students. When we’ve had problems this year, I think we’ve been able to solve them by talking about it. If there are unsolved problems, it may because I didn’t take enough time to listen.

I thank you for all that you have taught me this year. For what it’s worth, I believe next year’s seniors will benefit greatly from the work we’ve done this year because I will be a much better teacher. I hope you have found that you learned something valuable from our work together, too.

One last thing: high school may be over for you, but in my mind, you’ll always be a Viking. With that, I will always be happy to help you with your writing – or with any other subject that you think I might know about, for that matter – when you apply for a job or take college classes. I’d also be happy to serve as a reference for you. (Just let me know ahead of time, so I know to expect a phone call. It doesn’t look good when an employer calls and says, “Did you recommend Victoria Viking?” and I say, “Uh, um, sure, sure I did…” because I was caught by surprise!)

I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing you graduate next week.

With much appreciation,
Mr. Weller

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3 thoughts on “Open letter to my seniors

  1. Love it! Reading it i know it’s the product of ur reflections over the past year i have known u (wow #clmooc around the corner so it HAS been a year). I agree that things like peer review and reflection get better w repetition and frequency. I love the plan to give more feedback, fewer grades, and reconsider soft deadlines. Have your students had a chance to see this? Wonder what they thought…

    1. I posted it on Kidblog, and I emailed my kids a link; but since it was their final exam day, I don’t know how many of them took the time to read it. Their finals are a week ahead of the rest of the school’s, and then they enter the whirlwind of senior activities (senior picnic, graduation practice, clearing library fines)…not exactly the best time to share my reflections, I suppose!

      Next year, I plan to do this a couple of weeks earlier. The reflective letter is actually supposed to come after a series of reflective activities, but I’ve never had time to do it properly. Next year! 🙂

      I’m glad I did it, though, even as late as it was, because I felt it was an honest attempt to honor the learning that this class of seniors made possible for me this year.

  2. I’m thinking of starting my year with something like this — and start the conversation and reflection early. Why? Because of your reflection: “an honest attempt to honor the learning that this class of seniors made possible for me this year.” By starting at the beginning, the learning community begins as well. Thanks for sharing this.

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