Friday, January 19, 2018

Why I Give My Students a Postcard the First Day of Class

When's the last time you received a honest-to-goodness handwritten correspondence from someone? I'm not talking about junk mail, bills, or Christmas cards, but a actual personal message penned just for you? 

How did that make you feel? Important, emotional, humbled?

Sure, email is more efficient and verbal exchanges can be powerful, but everyone loves a note of affirmation or thanks. 

And... that is why I give each new pupil a postcard on the first day of class.

Writing a note to each student in the formative days of a new semester can nurture fledging relationships and help your students feel seen and significant. 

This year, I used "Women in Science" themed 
cards I loved! (found here)

I figure I can make the choice to write a welcoming note to each student when classes begin OR write up discipline referrals once classes get into full swing. I prefer the former, especially if I have the opportunity to make a young person's day.

Sounds rosy and idealistic but too time-consuming, right? Not necessarily. 

Here's how I do it:

1. I give out postcards on the first day of class, and have students write their name and address as part of their warm-up. 

This will keep you from the tedious part of sending home mail*- looking up each kids' information in the computer. UGH!

Tip: you may want to have an example on the board. Even some of my 16-year-old AP students don't know how to write their own address!

Message to an Earth Systems student who shared 
career goals including architecture on 
their "Getting to Know You" sheet

2. Next, I have each student fill out a "Getting to Know You" questionaire so I can get a idea of their attitudes about science and their aspirations and interests. Here's the file I use.

This will give you content for your message, help you to get to know your new classes, and immediately demonstrate to your new students that they are valued.

Bonus: it keeps them busy while you are taking attendance and showing everyone their seats :)

Sample message to a Physical Science student 
who I already LOVE- he wants to be a rapper, 
so I tried to make a connection with him 
using a (very corny) rhyme

3. After I have learned my students' names, I spend some time reading over their "Getting to Know You" responses and composing the postcard memos. It typically takes me 1-2 minutes per student. With a 4x4 block schedule and 3 classes per term, my total time commitment per semester is about 2 hours. I spread it over a few days. 

To make my Fitbit happy, I hop on my treadmill, throw a board across the handrails, and write my notes while walking at a blazing (ha!) 2 miles per hour. 

I get in a little cardio and a whole lot of warm-fuzzies as I peer into each kids' soul a bit. 

Multitasking at its finest!

I also imagine the smiles on their faces as they realize someone cares enough about them to send them a postcard. 

Y'all, this is what teaching is all about!

4. Finally, I take the cards to my school secretary and have them affix the postage and drop them off in the mail. Done!

If the idea catches on, your school can even have cards made such as the ones at my previous school. 

"Good News" cards courtesy of 
Woodland High School

If you missed the chance to start the new year with postcards, it's not too late!

 The first time I used this technique, I kept the cards in my desk and wrote a few each week as I "caught" each person doing something helpful, studious, or out-of-the ordinary. This is also a great way to cheer yourself up after a hard day or avoid an extra, bulky task at the beginning of a new semester. 



*Props to the amazing math teacher, Melinda Wilder, who shared this brilliant time-saver with me a few years ago! 

A sample message for a student who shared 
no career goals, interests, or anything unique. 
This happens sometimes, and they are the 
ones who need the cards the most!