Right now, we’re in the midst of a letter writing unit in one of my classes. Though it probably comes as no surprise, I’m a huge fan of old-fashioned, hand-written letters, so when I saw letter writing as part of the curriculum, I did a little jig (don’t worry, no one was around at the time).
Their first assignment was to write a letter to their teacher about “what works and what doesn’t work” about the way he (that’s me) teaches, deliver it to the local post office, and sign it anonymously.
I asked them to be honest, and this is just a small sampling of the sorts of letters I now have stacked on my desk:
Dear Prof. Plum,
I really enjoy your class, especially the vocabulary games and the projects. I also like that you don’t get mad at us when we are doing something stupid like throwing little paper balls or poking each other. One thing I don’t really like is when you are reading a story out loud while sitting in the white grandma chair and moving back and forth it makes this really annoying sound. Please don’t do that. But I also really like the discussions and all that. Over all, I really like your class.
To Mr. Halbrooks,
In my opinion your class is run in an acceptable way. There is of course always room for improvement so I will endeavor to give you a few tips to improve the Class. For starters, you could keep the class exactly the same. I like most of what you teach and how you teach the class. It is fun to listen to you and your somewhat random comments during class like, “Did you know that chalk is edible?” (CRUNCH). That was a great introduction by the way. Right now I can’t think of any improvements to make to the class, so keep doing what you’re doing.
Of course, I also had a handful of snide comments about subject matter: “Though the mythology unit is quite appealing, the less poetry, the better…” And then I had some very thoughtful ones. This one, in particular (from a student whose first language isn’t English), has caused me to rethink a great deal what it means to teach in an international environment:
Dear Mr. Halbrooks,
…Sometime I hope I could be American. If I was American, I would learn a lot more than I do now and would have more fun and love doing all the activities that we do in class…
My heart cries out for such a student. For people that don’t feel Home where they are – that wish above all else just to belong. It’s a conflict as old as Babel and the subject of almost all my favorite books and songs. I think of my own challenges with Tok Pisin – my own frustrations with myself for not being able to communicate anything meaningful with my haus meri. And I think – How would I handle five days a week in a school that was taught in some other language than my own?
But how can I help this student? How can I comfort him – reassure him – if my words and his words can only say so much?
“Home,” writes Emily Dickinson, “is the definition of God.” That, at least, is a start.