A Letter to Students and Parents

I began writing my course audit for AP Biology this week, which is always a fun thing to do. Part of my course description includes a short letter to parents and students at the beginning, so they have glimpse of my philosophy on the class and school. I also looked back at a course audit I had written for AP Chemistry my first year of teaching. The dissonance shocked me. This is from 2009:

Teachers, Students, and Our Roles You will not succeed in this course if you become merely an observer. Learning does not happen by being a spectator. You, as the student, are expected to take your education seriously and to be responsible for your own learning. Your success will correlate directly to the amount of time and effort you put into your studies of chemistry outside of class. At this stage in life, you are called to be a student. Time management will be essential in your success not only in this class but also in all your studies. This is not the only class you are taking. If you need help in setting up a “time budget,” you may see me to set up a study schedule to help structure your time and foster good habits. My job, as the teacher, is to facilitate your learning through instruction in class as well as outside of class if you need extra support. Throughout this year, I will provide you with experiences that are meant to engage you intellectually and that will help you broaden your knowledge of chemistry. One way to maximize your success is to have open communication between one another. As we progress through the course, I need feedback from you as to how the material is being presented so we can maximize class time and ultimately enhance your understanding. It is also my job as the teacher to design effective assessments of your learning. Exams, quizzes, and labs will help me make evaluations of your success in the class. Quizzes will be given twice in each chapter and a test will be given after every 2 chapters. All tests are cumulative and timed.

All of this is good information and important, but it is very condescending (to me) and really does not portray a very inviting class. Here is my letter for 2012:

Teachers, Students, and School The world is changing. Simply memorizing facts is no longer appreciable in a digital world, where information is available any time, any where. This fundamentally changes the roles of students, teachers, and schools. As a teacher, it is my job to help provide a starting point for your learning. I will be available to help answer questions, but it is also my job to ask even more questions. Biology is the study of history and science, but it is also the study of the world around us, which requires questioning and experimentation. As a student, you are expected to fail. We learn by making mistakes. I will push you to make mistakes, but I will also support your learning as you evaluate those mistakes. You are expected to persevere and continue to make progress. Learning opportunities for multiple styles will be provided, which will allow you to craft your learning experience in AP Biology. School will be a place of collaboration. While in class, you will be working in small focus groups that will in turn support one another through each unit. These groups will help you develop time-management and collaboration skills that are essential after your formal schooling is over. While in class, you will have the option to structure your learning time based around lab investigations, research, or application projects. We will focus on real-world uses of the information you are collecting and reshaping into something useful. Community outreach will be encouraged as part of the course.

I am already excited about next year.

3 thoughts on “A Letter to Students and Parents

  1. Jacky McDouall says:

    I have never thought about doing this. I assume you do give this to the students and parents? It is such a good idea. I love it. I should do something similar for my classes next year. Do you only do it for your AP classes or do you have a similar one for all years? We are introducing a new curriculum next year for our year 7 (first year into the school aged 11-12) and this would be a great way of starting them off (and their parents).

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I put this on the first page of my course description, so it does go home to all students. I will probably send it home via email to all parents as well next year. One of my growth goals is to improve communication with families next year, and I think this will be a first big step in that process. I’m also going to encourage an AP Biology open-house aside from the regular to get more face time with parents.

  2. Audrey says:

    I have done the same thing, ever since I started teaching online. I started doing it because I wanted to make sure the parents knew that I was a real person, and to establish presence. So I deliberately made it very friendly in tone. I can’t say it’s changed as much as yours have, at least not in tone, but the information in it has changed, like I now invite them to visit and comment on the class website. I also asked for an email to acknowledge that they received it, and that way I get all their email addresses too. But what’s really interesting is the variety in their responses. Some just say I received it, thanks, others WAY more appreciative, like thank you for your very thoughtful friendly letter….says a lot about parents I find!

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