Education Opinion

Calling Home

By Hanne Denney — October 01, 2005 3 min read
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Saturday morning, and I am celebrating with a second cup of coffee. Saturday brings the chance to get up and actually see the sun rise! What glory it brings. Usually by now I’m looking at sixteen students ages 14-18, all “eager” to learn parts of speech at 7:30 am. If I’m lucky the sleepy ones had a caffeinated drink for breakfast. If I’m really lucky the overly-energetic kids have had their medication and not a caffeinated drink.

I’m thinking about parents this morning. I have several I need to contact. It is, I think, one of the hardest parts of the teaching job. First of all, teachers aren’t in offices. In my school, at least, we don’t have phones in the classrooms, and the phones in the workrooms are never next to the computers we need to use to look up phone numbers. The information sheets the students fill out have (intentionally or not) inaccurate numbers. With cell phones, kids today don’t learn phone numbers – Mom’s office is programmed in, but they can’t (won’t) tell you her number. Planning periods are so often taken up with standing in line at copiers or meetings that it’s hard to get on the phone, let alone be available when the parent calls back from the message you left yesterday.

I like to use email to reach parents, because the student can’t as easily intercept a message. But it doesn’t afford the same opportunity to react to tones of voice, or to give immediate answers to questions. I’m trying to set up email distribution lists for my classes so I can send out group messages about upcoming due dates, or tests, or progress reports sent home for signature. But I still have to set up those email lists, and of course, not all parents use email or have computers.

When I called a parent this week to discuss her son’s frequent absence from my class, she asked me what she could do about it. She works, and drops her son off at the crosswalk to walk to school. Apparently that crosswalk is hard to cross, because often he doesn’t make it. I told her, “parent-to-parent”, that she needed to park the car and walk her son into the office (in front of all his friends) and hand-deliver him to an administrator to escort to class. I suspect it wouldn’t take more than one or two mornings for him to get the message that he did have to go to school, and that Mom was prepared to see that he did. But she told me that it didn’t make sense for her to walk a 15 year old boy to school. He wasn’t there yesterday.

I called another parent, a father, because his son had been involved in an argument in my last class and I was afraid the argument was carrying into violence in his neighborhood after school. The student answered the phone, handed it to his dad, and heard his father tell his teacher, “I don’t have to talk to you, my son will do what he has to do to defend himself.” And then Dad hung up. All I wanted to do was protect the safety of his kid. Now that kid knows he doesn’t have to respect the teacher – Dad surely doesn’t.

The call I don’t want to make this weekend is for a girl who told me she had been doing something stupid, and possibly illegal, the night before. She thought it was funny, and really cool, because she made it home safely. All I could think of was the number of girls who don’t make it home safely. I’ll call her mother, who may or may not act on my information, but who will certainly tell the daughter I called. The student won’t trust me, and will be angry with me. But I’ll know I tried, the same way I tried to help keep a kid from violence when I called his dad.

We’re teachers, we try. We try to call parents, or email them. Because it’s our job, no matter how hard it is to do. And when we do finally make contact, we try to REACH them.

This week I’m setting a goal to contact as many parents as I can. Good luck to us this week. Talk to some parents. They need to hear from us, even when they don’t want to listen.

The opinions expressed in Ready or Not are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.