Thursday, January 29, 2009

For those of you that might be interested in writing letters to teachers.

This morning I crafted a letter for my wife to email my son's teacher. I thought I'd share it with you.

One of the key elements of any effective letter is to include a "money quote". Barack Obama's inaugural speech was filled with them - almost all Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's speeches were. The only way people will take your words (in your blogs, letters, or criticism) to heart is if you frame the story with something memorable or give the person reading a memorable line. This is why the movie Forrest Gump was so memorable to me, same with the movie, "Catch Me If You Can", and "The 300". Often you will find me leaving a movie, quoting the best line rather than reviewing the plot or acting.

Dear Mrs. Teacher X*,

We noticed that [my son]* improved dramatically on his progress report. We also took notes regarding the "behavior remark about his daydreaming". Thank you. It seems [my son] has really learned a lot and been able to apply his intelligence and previous knowledge well to his new learning.

My husband and I wanted to discuss the bone system with you. Since no one disciplines this way in a home, it seems like it is hard for students to grasp whether the "bone system" is a punishment and what it means to lose a bone. It is obvious to them that it is a punishment - but it seems to carry no consequences and no understanding of what was done wrong. [my son] has mentioned that there is sometimes a line to "take a bone" - this seems like it has become routine rather than regulatory. It seems by conversation with [my son] and other children and parents that "taking a bone" is a part of the day for most kids and they are not learning to correct their behavior. I have also gleaned from conversation with [my son], that he feels sometimes that bones are taken away without explanation.

As an example, he claimed he walked around [another student's] food tray that she spilled onto the floor in the lunchroom. He claims a bone was taken for this. Obviously, it was a situation where we did not see all that happened and probably all of the situation wasn't recalled or retold properly ... but [my son] understood it as his bone being taken without explanation.

Each day, my husband likes to discuss with [my son] about having lost bones or having a "no bone day". He and I both wish to help [my son] understand and correct any poor behavior expediently - we can't do so if we do not know what to discuss and what to correct, nor do we know what action to take at home.

As his parents, we want [my son] to have consistent good behavior. We know that discipline is part of the early learning process as well. We are working with [my son] closely on staying still and focusing at home. This isn't easy with any 5 year old. We do ask that, while not taking any time away from others, that if [my son] loses a bone, he is told the exact reason, and/or the situation is relayed to us with more than a number. Bad behavior is not generic. [my son] comes home most days not knowing why he lost a bone. He is genuinely upset and feels like he is a bad kid who isn't being rewarded with the weekly or monthly prize. No matter how much it has been explained that if he were good for a week and then a month, losing one bone puts him into an extremely bad mood. My husband and I don't know whether to take it lightly or try hard to correct it and stay on him about it. We are realistic and know he is a talker and realistic to know he is not perfect and will on occasion do something improper. We want to correct him appropriately and hone his behavior so this will not be a problem as he grows. I say this with all honesty and sincerity, thank you for your discipline so far and thank you for your kindness towards [my son].

Lastly, I wanted to ask that it be made aware that [my son] has brought his lunch on 6 occasions - inclusive of today. He has only gotten milk on these occasions and his lunch money should be credited appropriately.

Thank you.


Donna & Rus Smith

I gave the teacher compliments and two money quotes.

* Names changed to protect the innocent

* A new method of punishment has been implemented into my local school district called "Item Taking". It entails a student being told they lose one of 5 items if they are called down. If a child loses 4 or more "items" in a day, a parent teacher/parent principal conference is held. If a child loses no "items" in a week, the child is rewarded with a small "prize" - a bigger prize is given for no "items" lost in a month. For my child's school ... the "item" is a bone. Each child starts the day with 5 bones on a chart. When the child is called down, the child removes a bone from the chart. Each child is sent home with a daily "bone total" / behavior report that must be signed.

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