One thing that is rarely ever covered in new teacher training is how to do what many of us in the profession consider to be “the easy stuff”. Things like how to use the copier, how to set up a classroom, and how to create and send out a movie permission slip. Now, for those who have received a degree in education these tasks may be relatively simple to do. But for those who change careers to join the teaching profession, even some of the easy stuff may feel like insurmountable tasks that no one prepared us for. I was in the latter camp.
One of the best ways to get parent support in the classroom is with consistent and clear communication. As educators in the digital age, we have access to a plethora of avenues for instant communication. One avenue we often overlook comes in the form of the humble permission slip.
Worse still, I changed careers mid school year in February to take over for another teacher, so I felt completely out of my element when it came to “standard’ teacher tasks. Thankfully, I was surrounded by an excellent team of veteran teachers all of whom were critical to my success my first few months teaching.
As the end of the school year rapidly approached, it dawned on me that I had to maintain a functional level of engagement with my class even after the testing season. You know, that part of the school year when everyone, staff included, only thinks about summer vacation. I went to my teaching mentor and asked him what he would be doing the last few days of school. He said, “Same thing I do every year…watch a movie.” Since we both taught 8th grade US History, a subject which holds a plethora of relevant movies to watch, I jumped at the idea. I was eager to do something enjoyable and entertaining during my final days with my first group of students. He recommended a movie that lined up with our last unit on the US Civil war and away I went, unaware of the situation I had put myself in.
Being the eager, first year teacher that I was, I Immediately went home, looked up the movie, which is when I noticed it was rated R. I thought to myself “Ok, I’m clearly going to need a permission slip sent home for the movie.” I decided to prescreen the movie so I could get a clear understanding of why it was rated R and how best to let my parents know what to expect if they wanted to allow their child to watch the movie.
The movie lived up to its R rating with a good amount of violence and harsh language, most of it coming in the form of racial slurs. I resolved to type up a little breakdown of the setting of the film, what parents could expect their children to see and hear, and what the purpose of showing the film was. I struggled mightily as I wanted to be as academic as possible in my communication with the parents, especially when watching a film about sensitive topics and dealing with difficult issues. Thankfully my frustration was alleviated a few days later when my mentor told me he forgot to give me his pre-written permission slip for the film.
I had succeeded in getting past the first few hurdles of the end of the school year. Now I just needed to send the permission slips home with enough time for them to be returned. Simple, right? Little did I know the most difficult part of the process was, in fact, just getting the slips returned. I informed my class, about two weeks prior, that we would be watching a film together for the last few days of the school year and since the film was rated R, they would need to get their parent’s permission in order to watch the film. I also had the brilliant idea to incentivize them to return the slips by informing them that, should they choose to be “less than responsible” and return them, they would have to write a multi page report on the civil war during the days the class would be watching the film. Everything was set up for success. Plenty of time to get the slips home and signed. Plenty of time to return them. A less than enjoyable alternative for those that neglected to follow through with my directions. It was going to be an easy last week of school.
The Monday of the last week of school rolled around and I asked my mentor teacher what to do with the more than 60 students that had yet to return their forms. His advice was to get verbal consent from the parents, i.e call them. So I did just that. I spent the rest of my school day calling dozens of parents explaining their student had not returned their permission form and should they not give their consent their student would have to spend the next week writing a multi page report on the civil war. At the end of it all, the overwhelming majority of parents understood and gave their permission.
Even though it ended up working out in the end, getting a movie permission slip turned in was a lot more complicated than I expected. I learned quite a bit about what to do and what not to do during this extensive process. The best advice I could give another teacher would be this. Make sure to plan further ahead, especially in regards to end of the year activities. Two weeks is decidedly not enough time to get permission forms returned. Look to other more experienced teachers to provide assistance and use what they have created. Many teachers told me, during those first few months, “don’t reinvent the wheel”. In hindsight, I recognize how much easier my life would have been during this fiasco if I had access to a single platform to communicate with parents and help manage the whole permission slip process.