Letter of Introduction
September 14, 2011
I am writing this letter to you to introduce myself and tell you a couple of things about myself, which may not be obvious when we talk in class. I would like us to have a great time as we study history together this semester, and I hope this letter will help us in this. I will tell you why I am in your class, share with you some of my personal history, and tell you some fun facts about myself.
I love history and I love teaching. I began teaching at the tender age of seven, when I placed my dolls in a row after my first day of class at elementary school in my native Moscow, Russia, and gave them stern looks for not answering my questions. I began loving history at an old, or so you may think :), age of 22 when I moved to America with my American husband. I began loving teaching history when I taught at a small private school, which is very much like Lincoln School, in Colorado Springs. And because I believe that learning and teaching are just two sides of the same coin of knowledge, I am flipping the coin every day when I teach you, you teach me, and I study at Brown University.
I am an only child. My Mom lives with me and my family: my husband and my almost-two-year-old daughter Sophia. My Mom does not speak English; my husband speaks Russian, French, and English; and Sophia speaks Babenglish, Babrussian, and her own language of power, which nobody understands. My husband is an emergency-medicine doctor; my Mom built tanks in the Soviet Union when she was a little older than you are; and Sophia fluctuates in her professional interests between a truck driver and a diva.
I love sewing and knitting and when I have time, I design and make clothes for myself. I hate cooking, especially with onions. I have two pet bunnies: Chewbaka and Dandelion. I don't know how to swim. I write fairy tales and long letters on paper.
Now, I would like to ask you to write a letter to me. Please tell me some things about yourself. What is important to you? What makes you unique? What are you most proud of? What is your history? What are some fun things not many people know about you? Please feel free to write about anything as long as you don't mind sharing it with me and it matters to you. I would like to know you better – this is why I am asking.
P.S. If by the end of the semester I have not told you about this font and you would like to know about its awesomeness, please ask me about it.
Students responded very positively to my letter of introduction. Several of them found the letter touching; others said that no other teacher had written to them and it was both special and helpful, since now they knew more about me. Everyone responded to my request and wrote back to me, which helped me as I was trying to get to know the students.
I believe the letter was a good way to set the tone for our classroom: I became more real than just a history teacher, and the students could write as much as they wanted about themselves, or as much as their trust in me allowed. However, it was not the original letter that made an impact on my interactions with the students. It was the format of the journal where the letters were written. The journals, in which the students wrote their letters and subsequent entrance and exit tickets, were kept in the classroom during my teaching trimester. I told the students that they could speak with me in their journals: they could write whatever they wanted, and I would write back. One student took this invitation to respond to my commentary of her work. She clarified some questions I had for her and asked me questions on how to improve. It was an academic conversation.
Another type of conversation occurred early in November. A student wrote in her journal: "Have you ever been bullied?" At first, I did not understand that the question was addressed to me: there was no name attached to it and it was obscured by other writing. Risking looking silly rather than negligent, I responded. I told the student that I had been bullied as a child and asked her why she was asking this question – was anyone bullying her? No, she replied and added that I seemed very compassionate, and she thought compassion was shaped by struggles.
I asked the student if she wanted to meet with me during her free period so we could chat about life. The student was very interested in such a meeting, and one day during her free period, we sat down to a cup of tea together.
It was a meaningful conversation, and I do not think it would have happened had I not showed my vulnerability to the students in my letter of introduction on the first day of teaching. We established a classroom culture, in which everyone mattered and trust was key. The letter opened up an opportunity to further our human contact.