Jessica commented the other day asking for suggestions about what to send out as a letter to parents and students on the first day of classes. While what I’ve got here isn’t exactly a letter, I think it’ll serve the purpose for which I intend it; to let students know what I expect from them and, in turn, what they can expect from me. Once I get hold of the parents’ email addresses, this is going home to them, too; even though my students are seniors and are, one could hope, mostly responsibile for their own stuff, I still think that communicating with parents in secondary school settings is essential.
It’s a bit lengthy (I’m an English teacher; what did you expect), but I’m pleased with how it came out.
Winter Term, 2009
Charter High School
About the Course: This year, English IV will be a writing-intensive course that will focus on critical thinking and analysis. We will use a variety of media to inspire our investigations into the communication process; we’ll be thinking, talking, and especially writing about literature, film, poetry, art, theatre, music, and speeches – among other things. This class will be much more than response and interpretation; while it’s important to be able to discuss how you feel about something, it’s often equally important (if not more so) to be able to express your understanding of how a thing works or how it fits into the larger context of your own experience. We’ll be looking at connections in this course and figuring out the different ways we can use literature as an experience to help us understand ourselves, our communities, and our world a little bit better.
Expectations: There are certain things that I will expect from you and, likewise, there are a number of things that you can expect from me. First and foremost is respect. As a community of writers and thinkers, we must be able to trust one another. Writing (and thinking) is a process that most often involves missteps and risk-taking. We need to create an environment where it’s okay to express half-developed ideas, where we won’t feel ridiculous if the thought we started chasing turns out to be silly or unsupportable, and where we challenge each other to expand thinking beyond the safe and expected. To that end, it is vital that we approach this class – and each other – with a high level of respect. We’ll learn a lot from each other – this class is not about me imparting learning on you but rather is a collaborative effort on all our parts – and we’ve got to be able to trust that we’ll support one another in the process of learning. Everything else that we do at a community of writers and thinkers will expand from that sense of trust and respect; without it, we’ll get no where.
Beyond that, there are certain day-to-day expectations that need to be made clear. You can expect me to be in class every day on time and prepared. You can expect me to take you seriously and to be entirely supportive of your own learning process. You can expect me to be clear about what I want from you in terms of work, both in class an out of it, and you can expect me to assess your work according to those standards. You can expect me to respond to your questions and concerns (whether they be class related or not) in a timely and respectful way. In short, you can expect me to be present and mindful and wholly engaged.
I expect you to be in class every day on time and prepared (that includes having completed any assigned reading and having all necessary materials with you in class). I expect you to be present and engaged in class and to take the time we have together seriously. I expect you to complete all the assignments I give, to participate in group activities, and to be a careful and conscientious participant in workshops with your classmates. I expect you to ask questions, to stretch beyond what you think are the “safe” answers, and to take full responsibility for your own learning. I expect you to come to me with any questions, problems, or concerns you have (and, if your concerns are about an assignment, I expect you to come to me well before that assignment is due). I expect you to behave in a mature and respectful way toward yourself, your classmates, and me. In short, I expect you to be present and mindful and wholly engaged.
Assignments: As a practice, I don’t map out an entire course on a syllabus; I feel that limits the class too much and stifles our ability to follow fruitful tangents that may come up as a result of our thinking. That does not mean, however, that you won’t know about assignments in plenty of time to complete them. For day-to-day work, I will usually write the assignment on the board or simply tell you what we’re doing for the class. For major projects, I will print out an assignment sheet with detailed instructions and the assessment standards I will use to grade the work. It is your responsibility to understand the assignment completely before you begin; telling me that you “didn’t get it” is not an acceptable excuse for not having completed an assignment or for doing it poorly.
Unless you are absent from school, work not handed in on the due date will be penalized ten points for each day it is late. If you are absent from class, it is your responsibility to find out what, if any, homework was assigned that day and to have it ready when you return to school. I do not offer make-up or extra credit work; I do, however, negotiate due dates with students who have legitimate reasons for not being able to complete an assignment on time. If you think you’re going to run into trouble getting something in when it’s due, let me know and we’ll come to an agreement that meets both of our needs.
I will make every effort to have your work graded and returned to you in a timely fashion. Please keep in mind, however, that you only had to write one paper; I’ll have to read and assess everyone’s work.
Media: I teach my classes through a broad range of media. We will not only read extensively, but we’ll also make use of films, music, poetry, speeches, and maybe even a guest lecturer or two. Some of the things that we will investigate in this class may be considered by some to be “edgy.” As seniors – and very nearly adults – I expect you to approach this material with maturity and a sense of critical inquiry. If, by common consent, Ms. Harrison (Chili’s note; she’s the director) and I feel that a permission slip is required before I present certain material to you, it is your responsibility to have that slip signed by a parent or guardian and returned to me on the day it is due. Failure to present consent will result in your being excluded from the activity and assigned alternate work. This is nonnegotiable.
Communication: I make it a policy to be accessible to all my students. Please know that you are welcomed to email me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can receive mail from that address on my mobile phone and will get back to you as soon as I possibly can.