I really love the first English lesson of the year. The anticipation and expectation that fills the room is palatable. Watching the quiet (mostly) students sitting and waiting to hear what I have to say, all the while making assumptions about the kind of teacher I will be and the kind of student they will be.
I find that this is probably the only time of the year that they are at their quietest selves. There’s a lot to internalise and make sense. My expectations of them are made clear in this lesson. They know what it takes to be a good English student and they know that a positive presence in the classroom will create a learning environment that is conducive to great learning for all.
After telling them a little about myself and my hopes and goals for the year, I take the opportunity to tell them that I want to get to know about them. About their goals for English and their expectations of me and what they want me to do in order to help them achieve their goals.
They are invited to write a letter to me. They can tell me a little or a lot about themselves. They do need to include what excites them about studying English, what makes them nervous about studying English, their strengths, likes and areas for improvement. So tonight, after having a lesson with three of my four classes, I am slowly reading through each letter, taking in the words of each student. I have told them that I will write a letter in response. If they have taken the time to write to me, it only seems appropriate that I reply to their letter.
I have long maintained that teaching is as much about establishing great relationships than it is about content. I have found that my students learn best when they relate well to me. They like positive feedback but they also like constructive criticism. They understand that mistakes are welcomed and there are no such things as stupid or dumb questions. They also understand that I am often more interested in their questions than in the answers. I have said all of this to them today and as I read over their letters, it is so pleasing to read their excitement and enthusiasm for learning.
I will reply to each student and will use the letters to discover ways I can tailor the content and activities to meet their needs. I want to broaden their experiences of literature given a number of students have indicated they want to discover the classics. I have also discovered that a number of students want to broaden their vocabulary or ‘read the whole novel for the first time.’
Letter writing can be a cathartic activity. Letter writing may not be as popular a form of communication as it was only years ago, but my students certainly enjoyed the opportunity to express their thoughts and I know they are anticipating a reply.