It’s about 3:oo pm. The students have left campus. You’re exhausted. You’d really like to go home now. Sadly, there’s still all the phone calls you have to make for the misbehaving or poorly performing kids. So, instead of heading home, you remain at school for at least another hour to make those calls. UGH! I used to do that and feel that way, too… until I found a better option. It’s going to make your life so much easier. So, get in your PJs, pour yourself a glass of wine, sprawl onto a cozy couch or bed, and read on to find out how to make your life easier peasier.
What manner of incantation will ameliorate the pains of making phone calls, you ask? Simple – I just don’t call parents anymore. What spell from the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class do you use then to communicate with parents, you ask? This school year (2018-2019), I have contacted parents exclusively through text messages. You may be cringing right now at the thought of using your personal cell phone to communicate with parents. So, just to get this out of the way now, I have been texting parents for the last 4 years and can honestly say that no parent has ever abused my number. I make it clear to parents that my number is to be used for text messages ONLY. I won’t be calling them using my cell and they shouldn’t call my personal number. If they do, I just don’t pick up. Voice communication is done solely on the work phone. With all that set in stone, I haven’t had a single problem in 4 years. By the way, as a side note, I didn’t come upon this idea of texting parents on my own. I stole it from Doug Gage (there’s that name again) over at Ruth O. Harris Middle School.
What are the advantages of using this wizardry known as text messages, you ask? There are SO. MANY. First off, I’m not tethered to the school anymore since I’m using my cell phone, which means I really can leave work at about 3:00 pm if I’m exhausted. Hell, I could compose and send a text message to a parent in the time it takes me to walk from the classroom to my car. I’ve even been known to ask Google Assistant (I’m an Android user) to write and deliver really short text messages while I’m driving home. iPhone users can do the same using Siri. Speaking of which, if you have a Mac, you can even connect your iPhone to your Apple branded computer and whip up your messages on it. It’s much quicker to type on a real keyboard than pressing those cramped keys on your cell phone. Google just recently (summer 2018) rolled out the same feature for Android users who want to type and send text messages on a PC. The above methods, and a few others, for sending text messages via computer are outlined here in this online article. The point is that I can be away from my class, driving my car, at home, at the movies (probably not a good idea though), sitting on the toilet (don’t judge me), or just out and about and STILL communicate with parents.
Second, texting gives you far more flexibility as to how you use your time than talking on the phone. If I want to make a call, I’d have to do it during lunch (MY time), after school (also MY time), or prep period (not my time, but if my prep is earlier in the day and a student misbehaves after prep, then I’d have to wait for lunch, after school, or prep the next day anyway). With text messages, there’s hardly any waiting. I give my students lots of group and independent work time, which means I get a few minutes here and there to write a message. I could even do it in between classes or during moments when the kids are transitioning from one activity to another. When I have particularly busy day, I can still at least start a text message, then pause if I need to take care of something, and eventually come back to the message later to finish it. If I’m on the phone with a parent, I can’t really do anything else. I definitely can’t conduct class. Texting allows me to multitask, which saves me time. The more things I can get done in a class period, the more time I have later for other things. For example, Once every month, my school requires teachers to stay after work for an hour to make phone calls. While everyone else is trying to fit in all their calls for the month in that one hour, I’m doing other things because I’ve already made my parent contacts through text messages. See! I save myself at least 1 hour every month.
Of course, sometimes, my day gets way too busy and I don’t even have time to text during school hours, but there’s a really important parent contact I need to make. On those days, I’ll bite the bullet and communicate on my own time, but since it’s via text, I can still message parents in between helping my kids with homework, preparing dinner, weight lifting sets, etc. It’s not a huge disruption to my private life. Plus, there’s always the wonderful copy/paste feature. If, on a given day, multiple kids have violated the same rule, then I’ll compose a message to one parent, send it, copy it, paste it to a new parent message, change the name, send it, and repeat ad nauseum. The flexibility in time usage and the minutes here and there I save every week by doing all the above literally adds up to hours that I now get to spend with my family or just relaxing.
Third, my Spanish and Vietnamese are decent for casual conversation and writing, but when it comes to more formal stuff, like what is required for parent contacts, I’m kind of clueless. So, what sorcery does one use to communicate in a foreign language, you ask? Why, Google Translate, of course! I don’t need to be fluent in another language or ask for a translator anymore to message parents. I can just type up what I want to convey, put it through google translate, then copy/paste the translation into my messaging app, and send it. BOOM! Done. ‘Nuff said.
Fourth, some parents are ridiculously hard to get a hold of. Maybe they screen their calls. I sure as hell don’t answer my cell when I see an unfamiliar number. Maybe they’re super duper busy and can’t answer, so you’re always getting their voicemail which they may or may not check in a timely fashion. Maybe their mailbox is full or isn’t set up yet, so you can’t even leave a message. None of that applies to text messages. For those who screen their calls, they’ll still see your text message. There’s no more interacting with voicemail at all because text messages bypass all of that. Sure, some parents will just ignore your texts, but you’ve got a far better chance of getting through to them with texts than through voice call.
Fifth, texting provides the benefit of automatic documentation of your attempt to contact the parent. If the parent responds, you get that documented as well. You’ll always have the date and time of the contacts as long as you don’t delete the messages. Back in May of 2017, I had to contact the mother of one of my students for the umpteenth time because her child was yet again misbehaving. I texted her that this was the fourth time he was disrupting class with his silly behavior and that I would have to escalate my level of consequences to possible class suspension if he didn’t alter his behavior. She replied that this was the first time I had ever mentioned to her that he was being disruptive and silly. I then responded by very diplomatically sending her the dates, times, and her responses to the occasions when I had indeed discussed the matter with her in the past. She simply replied, “ok”, and her son magically behaved for the last month of school. It was pretty handy keeping the string of messages I had had with her. There’s no arguing with documentation, and it’s nice that it happens automatically with texting.
Lastly, since you’re using your phone so much for school business, you can actually deduct part of your cell phone bill and/or the cost of the phone itself on your taxes. Most everyone has unlimited talk and text anyway, so it doesn’t cost you anything extra to text parents, and if you can get some dough back, why not do it? It may not be a big chunk of change, but it’s not like we teachers are gazillionaires. I’ll take the few bucks.
So that’s it! Stop calling parents. Just text them. There will be some occasions when you’ll actually have to make a call, but those are rare. So far this school year, I haven’t made a single one. You will save yourself so much time. One quick note though: however you choose to contact parents, please start out with something nice and positive about their child. If you can’t think of anything, just tell the parent you love the kid and you want the best for him/her, then go ahead and tell them about all the bad things the kid has done. Anyhoo, that’s how this TE(acher) phones home. Get it? It’s from “ET: The Extra Terrestrial”. You know? “ET phone home.” But I reversed the letters. Sigh. If you’ve got a better way of communicating with parents, please comment away.