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Mail Merge Epiphany

I remember the first time I pulled opened a form letter. Personally addressed to me, the greeting’s clean typeface read: “Dear Mr. Levy.” I felt the same initial rush of enjoyment from when summer camp care packages would arrive. Then I kept reading the letter, slowly realizing by the 8th mindless paragraph that there were thousands of other recipients. I hadn’t heard of a “mail merge” yet, but I certainly felt…well, merged with the masses.

Strange. A letter that had been personally stamped, addressed, and delivered by USPS must surely meant something to the sender. Yet it didn’t feel that way on my end; it seemed to be a trick to force unnecessary information on me.

So when I decided to email merge promotion-in-doubt letters to students this week, I did it with low expectations. I figured that students might pass over the letters, or feel once again feel reminded that they were not meeting expectations.

What I didn’t predict was that I would receive over twenty emails back from promotion-in-doubt students! Their responses were genuine, and their concern was heartfelt.

  • “Okay Mr. Levy i am going to make u proud”
  • “Thank you Mr.Levy i wull make shore that i will not give up I want to pass”

As these emails poured in, the guilt I’d felt for using the mail-merge-as-personalization technique was replaced with the thought that I should have done this sooner. The students had read my letter and my mini pep-talk, and they’d chosen to personally connect back to their principal.

What had started as form letters in my outbox had transformed into authentic student communication. I’ve happily responded to each of these students, and have been able to explain more of the details surrounding their promotional status. In one case, a student had done the work necessary to change her grade and needed to be removed from the promotion-in-doubt list! We were both very excited.

I think my favorite response was from a 7th grade boy, who learned he was at risk: “thats not cool.”

He was right, potentially bad news is never cool. But email-merging semi-personalized information to students? Cooler than I thought.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of the NYC DOE or any other entity. About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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