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Jennifer Condon the teacher who requests hand written notes instead of emails

Jennifer Condon 5th grade teacher lets parents know that she prefers handwritten notes for communication
Mieke Kreizinger

Handwriting, the fingerprint of the heart and soul, is a critical part of a love letter, and we here at Love Letters Live are always looking for interesting perspectives on handwriting. Jennifer Condon, a wonderful writer and very loved teacher has something interesting to say about handwritten notes and why she wants from them from parents. Here is Mrs. C’s perspective on handwriting and school communication.

“It’s not as if I ever got good report card grades in Handwriting during elementary school, in fact that’s one of the few C grades I remember getting. And even now, my writing is nothing great to look at – to read, yes, but not very pretty. But I am a teacher and my days are filled with writing of all sorts and from a wide range of interesting characters.

Teachers have gotten a bad rap these days in the news, but our days are actually full of non-stop moments with our students. I have 35 students (and their parents) as clients each moment for those precious hours between 8:10 and 2:45 each day. Or so the story goes. I actually spend nearly ten hours a day at work, with a large part of my “off time” spent sitting in front of my school computer.

When I arrive in my darkened room each morning, long before students begin their school day, the first thing I do isn’t prepare lessons, check supplies of paper, or read through student work. The first thing I do is log on to my computer to check email. Keep in mind that I usually log off from that same computer between 5:30 and 6:00 each evening, and yet there are generally fifteen to twenty new emails to peruse. Many are junk, a few are inspirational sayings of the day, and some are staff memos or schedules. Those I scan through and promptly file or delete. None of them are beautiful, sentimental, or – usually – fun to read. They are just bland information being delivered to large groups of people in the most efficient way possible.

Then, there are the parent emails. You might have sent some of these yourself – a quick message dashed off to your child’s teacher to mention that some class will be missed due to an urgent orthodontist/doctor/passport photo appointment you have the next day. I appreciate you letting me know. I get these all the time and am often shocked to note the time it was sent – many times between midnight and 4:00 am! If your message is in my inbox before my class walks in the door, I will probably have had the time to read it and be able to remind your child to pack up in time. The same goes for messages with questions about a test grade, a conference request, or a “please dismiss my child from PE” excuse.

There are some parents, however, who surely seem to think that I sit at my computer all day awaiting their notes. When I finally have a chance to sit down after school is dismissed, (and after driveway duty, chatting about student behavior with another teacher, using the restroom, and making it back to my silent classroom around 3:15 if I’m lucky,) it is always surprising to me that some parent thought it was a good idea to send an email twenty minutes before school ended, directing me to tell their child to walk home with a different friend than usual or to get a ride home with so-and-so’s mom. During that time, I was teaching a whole class of students, not reading their email. It always gives me a little heart attack because by then it’s been half an hour since I’ve sent my darlings on their way and I can only hope that my dear student made it to her destination safely.

We all rely on email as a main form of communication too much these days, and people often assume that what they type is instantly relayed to the brain of the person for whom it was typed. I still have to actually have to sit down to check email, which means that I’m often a tad behind in finding out about breaking news such as those last-minute changes in carpool plans or an upset parent who wants to meet so I can explain why her child got an A- on his essay. I don’t have a smart phone yet, nor do I want my pocket to ding at me every time I receive a school email message, especially the hostile ones. There is a time and a place for school communication, and 2:30 am is definitely not that time!

On the other hand, handwritten notes require a parent – or anyone – to think through what they are communicating and to reconsider their word choice or tone before sending it on its way. There is more filtering going on in a note that is completed by the signing of one’s own name.

This is why I share a special request with parents at Back to School Night. I give them all the ways that they can contact me – my email, classroom voice mail, school office for emergencies, but also my favorite way…a real live handwritten note. Parents are often worried that their child will forget to hand it to me, and I’m sure that it has happened, but the handwritten note has become such a sacred thing that students usually walk straight up to my desk as soon as class starts in order to deliver this precious cargo. I love the personal insight that a real note offers – a glimpse into the family’s stationery preferences, the unique handwriting style of other cultures, parent signatures at all levels of scribble, and just that human touch.

Throughout every school day, my students and I share a constant back and forth of handwritten notes. Although technology is a big part of our day, my scribbled notes – a hybrid of printing and cursive – are a huge part of their day. Whether with brightly colored pen as feedback on their essays and tests, written on a graphic organizer and projected on the board for a U.S. History lesson, or steps of a math problem manually written on the board with a dry erase marker, my written words are an integral component of my students’ learning and could never be replaced by computerized performance assessments that end with a chart or graph to show a fifth grader’s latest level of proficiency.

On the other hand, my students’ scribbled notes on homework, class work, and work on the whiteboard are not subject to spellcheck and are a constant reminder of the importance of knowing how to actually spell instead of simply relying on a computer to correct one’s errors. Neatness counts too. Many people have started moving towards the argument that students will spend their future typing and thus shouldn’t have to worry about the neatness of their handwriting, and won’t need to learn cursive at all. That is malarkey. If my dear kiddos don’t learn how to write neatly, correctly, and quickly in elementary school, they never will. My husband recently shared that a colleague had passed him a Post-it with some information that was messy and incorrectly spelled. He was embarrassed for such a highly educated scientist to be lacking skills that a middle school student should have. As for me, I wonder if it was in cursive.

One of my most precious teaching mementos is a mini Post-it that I keep in my desk drawer. It has a flower drawn on it and just the name “Morris”. This young man is in college now and in the years since he was one of my fifth-graders, I’ve received hundreds of hand-drawn pictures, homemade cards, and various other crafty items that my caring students have created especially for me. To my husband’s chagrin, my house is filled with bundles of these sacred texts saved from the last thirteen years. Many of them are filled with the neatly written precious compliments of “Your my favorite teacher!” and “Your the best!” (I teach them how to spell contractions, I promise!) while others share something special that they’ve learned or that I’ve helped them with during our time together. I have been with some of these students through severe academic struggles, test anxiety, parents facing cancer, and social difficulties.

Some of my students have come back to visit years later, or year after year, and have shared how things that happened in my classroom when they were ten have shaped their lives since. At those times, I can flip back through my collection of old yearbooks to find their notes and signatures, along with their sweet little fifth grade smiles captured in our class photos. And if these ‘big kids’ look back in their own yearbooks, they’ll find a long handwritten note in purple ink from their fifth grade teacher who will always hope that they are kind to others, try their best, and check their work. Maybe I should add a P.S. to each year’s farewell message – ‘Please continue to hand write your notes!’ -- Jennifer Condon”

Thank you Jennifer for the insights so beautifully put and the reminder that handwritten notes require planning, which is, by the way, an essential component of a love letter and maybe any communication you want definitely noticed. Yes, the handwritten note, precious cargo, indeed.

From me to you with love in the air, Janet

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