A common writing assignment for elementary students is composing a personal letter. However, as children grow into middle school, high school, and college students, they often forget those early lessons. Some may think that they will never use them because paper letters—complete with ink and envelopes and stamps—are basically things of the past. Who even sends letters anymore? This isn’t the 1800s! It’s not even the 1900s!
But the reality is, our present culture probably sends more letters than either of the previous two centuries. We just call them emails, instant messages, and texts.
Yes, those are letters, even without the ink, envelopes, and stamps. They are written communication from one person to another with a specific intention in mind.
But because sending [digital] letters is ridiculously easy and commonplace now, students often ignore their early lessons about how to construct a letter properly. This informality is perfectly acceptable in the day-to-day communication between family members and peers, but it does not extend to all situations.
A common situation that demands a more formal approach to letter-writing is contacting teachers.
This applies also to students utilizing the EIW Scoring Service. All our scorers (and many professional teachers besides) can attest to the extreme frustration of receiving a message from a student who doesn’t so much as identify themselves!
Students from all types of schooling make this kind of a mistake, but it is especially common for homeschool students. After all, they rarely have to email their teacher; they usually can just walk into the kitchen and ask Mom whatever they need to know. This technique doesn’t work for the Scoring Service, however; nor will it work in a collegiate or professional environment.
So how are homeschool students supposed to write an email to a teacher (or other authority figure)?
Here are some basic formatting and etiquette tips to help you out!
1. Include the parts of a letter
The parts of a letter are date, greeting, body, closing, and signature. In digital letters, the date is often included automatically by the messaging system. However, you should include all other parts.
2. Identify yourself and your class
Always state your full name and what course you are taking at the very beginning of the message. After all, teachers have a lot of students. They often won’t be able to immediately remember who you are and what class you’re taking, so you are in effect wasting your teacher’s time by making them dig for that information themselves—which sometimes college professors won’t do, so your question will go unanswered.
3. Identify the specific assignment or topic about which you have a question
Again, TEACHERS ARE BUSY!! Don’t make them read your mind or Sherlock Holmes their way into figuring out what you mean.
4. Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation
Hopefully you like your teacher, but your teacher is not your friend. Dont send causal message with slang and improper grammer and bad spellin and typos liek u dont relly car e and it deonst matter? Take it from me: this is the quickest way to make your teacher livid.
1. Be humble
Don’t grovel, but write to your teacher from a level-headed place of humility. This is NOT because the teacher is always right, but because it’s honestly the easiest way to get what you want (whether that is an answer to a question, an extension for an assignment, or help with a confusing topic). Teachers (and everyone, for that matter) respond better to people who speak kindly. “Why’d you give me a C on my paper” won’t get you nearly as far as “Could you please help me understand why I received a C on my paper?”
2. Be respectful
Again, teachers aren’t your friends or your peers. They are authority figures, so treat them with respect (even if you don’t particularly like them). At the very least, this is good practice for working with your boss or other professionals in the future.
3. Close with a thank you
Once again, TEACHERS ARE BUSY! Always thank them for the time they took to read the message as well as for their help. I can almost guarantee you that 87% of teachers will finish the message like, “Look at this respectful young person! I like them! I’m going to help them out right away!” Or at least something similar 🙂
Learning how to write to authority figures like teachers is an invaluable skill for homeschool students.
I hope these few formatting and etiquette guidelines are helpful to you!
By Athena Lester
Head of Curriculum and Scoring