We all walk into the school year with dread, there’s just no way to avoid it. Well, maybe if you’re a super positive person you don’t. I’m neither super positive nor super negative. I like to think of myself as a realist, but I probably do lean a bit towards the negative side, at least in my worries.
For the last two school years I’ve given the teacher(s) a letter at the very start of the school year, hoping to set the tone for a positive year. I do this knowing I cannot control the manner in which they interpret the letter or what their preconceived notions are, knowing full well that an annual meeting is held with the full team, including all of the new teachers, before the Meet the Teacher night, where the subject is specifically my son.
Regardless, and knowing full well I can’t control everything, I do my best to start off the year with the new team members on a positive note.
This past year I even included gifts. The gifts were some dyslexia books, Overcoming Dyslexia and Fish In A Tree, and a Starbucks gift card, all in a pretty gift bag. With more time I would have done a bit more, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to add the gifts until the last minute.
In thinking you might find this to be a useful tactic to get the school year kicked off, I’ll share the bulk of my letter with you here. Note that my son is in the 4th grade so my method will likely evolve for Jr. High, but I’m not there yet.
Dear Mrs. X:
I wanted to write a note to introduce my child and our little family.
We are a small family of 3. Mom (me), Dad and only son. We love watching movies, playing with our dogs (1 pure breed black lab and 2 rescues), swimming in our backyard pool, watching our son play soccer, baseball and chess, and generally just spending time together.
Our son loves playing Minecraft and Roblox on his iPad, listening to books in the car when we’re together, and for me to read to him, which I strive to do every night.
Audiobook wise we’ve listened to all the Harry Potter series, all of the Percy Jackson series and numerous Star Wars books. We’re almost finished with Star Wars Episode 1 (we’re doing them in movie release order).
Our son plays soccer in the fall, baseball in the spring and throughout the year takes piano lessons and has a chess coach. He has 2 piano recitals a year and also, 2 years in a row, has competed in the largest children’s chess tournament in the country, which takes place every December here in Houston.
The first year of the tournament our son did phenomenally well, coming in 3rd place in his entire age group. His performance was so great that this past December he was in an open age group compromising mostly adults. It was quite disheartening to be up against so many people so vastly more experienced then he was and his chess coach was less than pleased with the class he was placed in for competition purposes, but it was a testament to his prior year’s performance. While our son did not perform as well as he would have liked, he did not lose his love for the game and now that summer is over, the lessons are back up and running again.
As you have likely been told already, our son is dyslexic and dysgraphic and has an IEP plan with accommodations. Our annual meeting is the beginning of January. I am looking forward to seeing the team again and reviewing the goals in January and how our son is progressing against those goals.
I am also looking forward to working with you, as my son’s teacher.
You will find I am a passionate parent; I am not, however, a helicopter parent. I desire for my son to learn to advocate for himself and he’s doing a great job of this for his age. He’s not ashamed to ask for help when he needs it, but he is also independent and will try to do things on his own where we have accommodations in place. For example, he won’t always request for his tests to be read to him, but when he doesn’t he won’t answer all of the questions due to lack of time; versus when they are read to him he will answer every question.
Our son is not ADD / ADHD. You will find that he loves to talk. His verbal skills are highly developed with a very large vocabulary as this is common in dyslexics. He is far more able to communicate effectively verbally than in the written word.
But, I bring up the ADD / ADHD because of his talking and fidgeting. You will find, when presented with material that scares him, and what I mean by this is something that is intimidating, that he is afraid is too hard or he cannot do, he will talk and fidget as a means of delay and distraction. As is reflected in his school file, he has a mid-line issue. I’m happy to discuss this at more length with you, but the end result is that when he’s under stress he moves. The greater the cognitive stress, the greater the movement.
I encourage you to find a way to manage this. We have also done a great deal of work this summer with his private Neuhaus trained tutor and have engaged an Occupational Therapist for his mid-line issues and dysgraphia. We are confident that over time and through working with such a positive school team and his therapist, that this issue will be less obvious in the classroom.
Please know that we have done an enormous amount of intervention to get our son to where he is and we are exceptionally pleased with his progress thus far, but while our son is dyslexic that is not what defines him, that is not the box he fits into. It is an aspect of him, like the color of his eyes. All it means is he processes information differently and has to be taught in a very specific way. He is exceptionally bright and eager to learn. He loves school and is looking forward to the new school year.
I have a few requests that will be in place throughout the school year, and, I believe, will help us both navigate the year.
- Please do not ignore my communications and please do not be brusque in your responses. I know you receive numerous emails from parents during the day, and many are likely not kind. I promise to always treat you with civility and professionalism in all things and request the same from you. I only ask this because of past experiences, therefore please know this request is in no way a pre-judgment of you, especially since we’ve not yet gotten to know each other.
- Please do not “sugar coat” any of our communications or any issues you may need to discuss with me. I promise I’m a big girl and I can take it between the eyes. I am not hot headed and will not lose my cool. I’ve been lied to in the past by school administrators and teachers (not at X School) and it did not sit well with me. If I’m not told the truth I can never get to the root of the issue and work towards a resolution that’s in my son’s best interest. My responsibility in life is to raise the best man possible, a Godly man, prepared to contribute to society and have as successful of a life as possible, in whatever it is he may choose to do.
- Please be patient with my son. He will always work hard and try his best; it’s in his nature and he loves to please. He doesn’t like to fail. Please be aware of his struggles and that he is trying. Please be cognizant of his fears and exhibit patience when dealing with those fears. Please know that he’s looking to you for approval and acceptance.
- In the past I have requested that his grades neither be discussed with nor shown to him. I modified this to anything that is an F grade. This is very important to me. I discuss his grades with him as I deem appropriate. This is to manage both his self-esteem and his stress levels. I have some new tactics I’m working on to bolster his confidence. Over time, as my tactics evolve, sharing grades will be appropriate, until then I request you let me manage this communication with him.
- Please know that self-esteem is a huge issue for children with dyslexia. Because they do not fit into the federal and state’s definition of “normal” it is very easy for them to feel less than, stupid, weak, etc. None of this is true. I encourage you to read Fish in a Tree.
- I personally believe dyslexia is a gift. I work in my spare time with a phenomenal group of people to spread dyslexia awareness and advocacy to parents across the state. I host a Facebook page, a blog, am published by other dyslexia groups across the nation and host local advocacy events in town. If you ever wish to discuss the science of dyslexia, please consider me a resource.
- Please do not deviate from his accommodations. If you have suggestions for modifications, enhancements or improvements, I’m all ears. My son is extremely intelligent. This is not a biased parent’s opinion of their child, this is quantifiable fact. His math skills are borderline gifted, especially his spatial reasoning. His problem solving skills, like many dyslexics, are highly developed. He likes to solve problems and puzzles. My goal is to level the playing field for him so he can succeed to the best of his ability.
- Please communicate to me everything you feel is important, and even the things that cross your mind that might be relevant or interesting. I love feedback and thrive on communication. Email is generally the easiest way to reach me, but if you give me a heads up that you’d like to talk on the phone, I’m all for it. Mrs. Z and I have had some great conversations regarding my son on the phone.
- We have a certified Neuhaus tutor working with our son 3 days a week. If there is content with which he is struggling, please communicate that to me as soon as possible. We will develop an action plan.
- I need as much heads up as possible for tests, things that are due, etc. specifically for reading and language arts. Telling me on a Monday something that will happen Tuesday or Wednesday is too short of notice. Please be aware that between both my husband’s and my working schedules, our son’s school hours, after school care, and tutoring, we have little time for much else. This is most critical for the word tests, sight words, etc.
I hope you don’t find this letter daunting or overwhelming as that is not at all my hope or purpose. I feel it’s very important for us to be on the same page for my son to have the best opportunity to succeed. Please call, email or text me as you need. I am here to support my son in all things and especially to support your endeavors to teach him.
I’m really not sure what else I can add; so here’s to a great year!!!