As I prepare for students to inhabit my classroom after any extended break my chest starts to close up and my head starts to ache and my sleeplessness jerks me back and forth between double espressos and complex carbs. I dream that I show up to school without pants. Or worse: without lesson plans.
If it is true more than half of all teachers burn out before their fifth year in the classroom, it is because of Sunday nights before the first day back after long breaks, I am sure of it.
But if it’s also true that teachers, more than any other professionals I’ve ever talked to at dinner parties, will proclaim readily, zealously, that this work is the hardest work you’ll ever love, it is because of Monday afternoons after breaks: the kids having been excited to be back despite their cool, the lessons delivered surprisingly smoothly, the suspicion creeping up that the young people you are charged with will change the world and it will good.
This year I was determined re-enter my classroom after winter break confident that that Monday afternoon would come. I was determined to appear as if I have totally got this covered. No problem. My solution was to create the following lesson which aligns nicely with our TPEP rubric, reminds students that there is use for technology beyond Instagram, and saves teachers, hopefully, from receiving at least a few, yo, why haven’t you graded that essay yet? emails.
How to Email Your Teacher Like a Proper Human Being in 10 Steps
Posted on my white board, the Learning Target greeted my sixth grade Humanities students as they arrived to class: Today we will 1) learn 10 steps to emailing teachers LIKE A BOSS and 2) understand that email is a tool for self-advocacy. They thought that first part was just hilarious. Which is why I appreciate teaching eleven year olds.
Criterion 1: DONE. Centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement. By posting this (hilarious?) Learning Target and then pointing to it, reminding them of it, reflecting on it at the start, the middle, and at the end of the lesson I have indeed focused my class on what we’re doing today. I have reeled them in from their two weeks of screentime and family overload. I have set them up right from the start that we will accomplish two things today–there will be no ease back into class, we will hit the ground sprinting–and it will be fun.
Criterion 2: Implementing the power of the turn-and-talk. Demonstrating effective teaching practices. This PowerPoint-based lesson is heavier on direct instruction than I usually go for in my student-led classroom. However, for every step of the way to emailing like a boss, I have my students turn to each other and process it out. What do you think self-advocacy means? What reasons might you need to email a teacher? What do you think your email@example.com email address says about you? We pause to share out and then we dive back into Cornell Notes.
Criterion 4: Doing what I said we are going to do. Providing clear and intentional focus on subject matter content and curriculum. It wasn’t until the end of my first year teaching that I figured out that I am not supposed to trick my students into learning secret lessons. For example, if I taught this same lesson a few years ago for an observation, I would have told the class they were learning how to email a teacher and then I would have explained to my Principal that what I was really teaching them was how to use technology as tool to help my middle schoolers begin to transfer academic responsibility from their parents to themselves. Now, I just tell the class straight out: Here is what we’re doing today. And this is the point of doing it. And then I tell them again and again before our 90 minute block class period is over and I hope with all of my teacher hope that when I see them in two days for our next class, they have a vague suspicion that we did something interesting and useful in our previous class.
Criterion 8: Sharing out. Exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning. I try to make an effort at emailing out lessons to my department, but I get it that teachers are drowning in their Outlook accounts half the time, and even the most earnest efforts at collaboration can easily be forgotten into the abyss of the Inbox. So I after I sent out this How to Email lesson to the whole staff, I felt especially charmed to receive such positive feedback. A music teacher sent over a high five. A math teacher replied with gratitude. And then of course my students started emailing their teachers using our 10 Steps and teachers began forwarding me their polite and to-the-point student emails with an attached LOL and a nice work.
And in an effort to aim for Distinguished in my TPEP evaluation, I will now share out this lesson’s How to Email Like a Boss PowerPoint with all of you here as part of my professional community. I recommend teaching this lesson right after a break—after President’s Day weekend perhaps? After spring break? The slides are all here. The TPEP boxes are checked. The only thing left to do is to remember on that evening before your big return to the classroom: You’ve got this. No problem at all. You’re totally ready with pants AND a lesson plan tomorrow.
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