Last year, a teacher who I had the honor to work with a few years ago wrote an insightful poem about the potentially negative impact of one little question teachers love to ask during the first few days of their English classes. You can read it here:
Dear teacher, On the first day of school, When you ask me how my summer was, You're assuming that it was good. You're assuming it was something remarkable, Something incredible, Something shareable, Something fun. And maybe it was. Maybe I went to Six Flags. And maybe I flew in an airplane.
Before I'd read Mr. Baker's poem, I had not realized how negatively this question could impact some of our most vulnerable students. I'd asked the question during my quickwrite time in class, but had given students options in the event that they didn't want to write about their actual summer. (Write a fictional account. Write about how you wish your summer was. Write about someone else's summer.) I thought these options were good enough.
I'm certain now that they aren't, and I have better options.
Instead of asking “How was your summer?”, I'd rather ask “How can I be a better teacher to you?” Or, I'd rather get to know my students by asking one of the questions in my First Five Days of School Quickwrite Prompts.