After my youngest son started school and I realized that he was going to be my Special Snowflake (my momma term-of-endearment for him), I worried that school would be a struggle. Morgan never knew a stranger and he made friends easily, but he lost them just as easily. He was a big baby at 9 pounds and 14 ounces so he was, naturally, a big toddler and a big kid. This was problematic in that he often acted his age but looked much older. So, when he was at the babysitter’s house during the day and played with the older children who were 4, they assumed that he was 4 and should act accordingly. The problem was that he was 2, so he didn’t share well and tended to barrel over the other kids while they were playing. By the time he reached school age, I realized that I needed to tell people some things about him so that they would give him an extra measure of patience. It worked, and so when he started 2nd grade I began writing yearly letters to his teachers so they would know about him and not frustrate themselves when he didn’t act like every other student in the classroom.
More than anything, this helped him gain favor among his teachers as a “different kind of learner,” and that helped him enormously through school. He’s getting ready to start college next month, and my having stepped in to introduce him is coming in handy as he has learned to advocate for himself. With my own background and expertise in education, here are 10 things you might consider telling your child’s teacher this school year for your own Special Snowflake.
#1 Their strengths: Not every child is cut out to be the perfect in-class student, but every child does come to the classroom with strengths. Perhaps your child is socially adept and ensures that every other child is included in a game of kickball. Maybe they do a good job of organizing their toys. Either way, let your child’s teacher know what they’re good at so they can draw on those strengths. For instance, Morgan likes being responsible so his 2nd grade teacher made him in charge of the overhead projector. He knew how to operate it, clean it, and liked wrapping up the cord to be put back in the corner when they didn’t use it. This helped him feel a part of the classroom structure.
#2 Their weaknesses: One of the things your child’s teacher needs to know is how they respond in the learning environment when they’re not good at something. I once had a student who couldn’t spell to save his life, but his vocabulary was enormous and he made up for the spelling once computers became a part of how we used resources in the classroom. Because I knew that prior to the start of the school year, I made sure to accommodate him and worked with him individually on some words he consistently misspelled. When teachers know how your child struggles, they can address it better.
#3 Special talents: It’s not easily identifiable to classroom teachers and school personnel what special talents students have unless they show us during a talent show. Students who can play a musical instrument can be utilized in the classroom for special projects. I’m particularly thinking of a student I once had named Chad who played the drums, and did it while we were trying to read novels quietly. Since I knew that about him, I made him a deal: if he could get through a 20 minute lesson quietly without using his pencils for drumsticks, I would allow him to use free time at the end of the period to “perform”. Another girl was classically trained on the piano and was able to provide accompaniment when we gave dramatic readings.
#4 Favorite subjects: As a former English teacher I always knew how much my students didn’t like reading because they told me. Sometimes, their parents told me. Either way, it’s helpful to teachers to know what subjects your child likes so they can tap into it when that’s the exact opposite of what they’re learning.
#5 Least favorite subjects: If your child is elementary age, they most likely have a teacher who instructs on every subject. Tell your child’s teacher which of those are difficult for them so they can meet their needs when they begin to struggle. If a teacher knows that your kid struggles with geography they can offer multiple ways to learn that material. Or, if they need concrete ideas about math, the teacher can ensure that he or she has math manipulatives available.
#6 What triumphs they have overcome: There was a time when I didn’t know enough about my students and that bit me in the butt when I made the grave mistake of using too much sarcasm in the classroom and one of my students had struggled with Autism. She wasn’t able to read social clues and know when I was being literal and concrete or sarcastic and abstract. Her mother came in to tell me halfway through the school year, and I wish I had known right away so that I wouldn’t have used so much sarcasm in the classroom. She had overcome the struggle of making friends, but I didn’t make it easier on her when the mature students “got” my humor and she was missing out on it. Socially speaking, it’s important to tell your child’s teacher about things they’ve been working on so they can continue to make improvements.
#7 Personal family issues: I don’t think teachers need to know the intense details about a family divorce or siblings in jail, but these details help teachers be sensitive, especially when choosing materials for instruction. Tell your child’s teacher the very basics of a family issue, but don’t offer too much information. (Teachers are people, too, and are prone to gossip sometimes.) When I knew that a student lost a dog recently and was taking it hard, I offered him to leave the classroom during the final read-aloud chapters of Where the Red Fern Grows. Trust me when I say I dodged the bullet of a major classroom meltdown with that one.
#8 Health concerns: Not every kid comes to school as a great athlete or 100% healthy. Schools need to know about your child’s health when it could potentially be life-threatening like diabetes or mental health issues. If you’re new to a school this is especially important so that a team of people will know how to respond to low blood sugar or when a student has been gone to the bathroom and is missing for 20 minutes or more. If you have a plan at home for managing their health concerns, make sure their teachers are aware of a health plan at school.
#9 Experiential learning styles: One of the most important pieces of information a teacher can know about a child before they begin instructing them is how they learn. Do you know your child’s learning style? Are they kinesthetic or auditory? Do they pick up material faster when presented with visual or auditory cues? Either way, this is important to know about your child and then to tell their teacher how they learn best. Knowing that preceding classroom instruction can aid teachers in their planning. Learning is improved when multiple styles are incorporated into lessons. Edutopia offers a quick Learning Styles Quiz you can take with your child. Tell them about your child’s study habits at home, too.
#10 Their BEST creative aspirations: Students with hobbies and interests outside of school make for more creation in the classroom. Tell teachers about what gets the fire in their belly going and about something special they’ve participated in whether it was a local art contest or running a 5k for cancer for their sick uncle. These pieces of their personality might not come through easily detected, but it rounds them out in the eyes of a person who will be spending hours with them each day in the learning environment.
Have you written a letter to your child’s teacher before? Did it help? Did I miss anything on this list? Trust me when I say that it’s invaluable information that can help teachers be the best version of themselves for your child. Let’s face it: they really are Special Snowflakes.
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