IT Infrastructure Opinion

Got Mail

By Kevin Bushweller — November 11, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I recently attended back-to-school nights at my oldest son’s middle school and my younger boys’ elementary school. I sat in the classrooms of seven teachers, all quite different in personality and teaching style.

Yet in every classroom, I heard the same request about how the teachers wanted to communicate with parents: They all emphasized that by a long shot, they preferred to use e-mail—not the telephone—to keep us informed and answer our questions.

Their pleas make sense to me. I use e-mail extensively to communicate at work and to stay in touch with the parents whose children I coach in soccer and lacrosse. I can’t imagine having to make phone calls to accomplish what I now do with e-mail. And my wife, a community college teacher, spends hours each week reading and responding to e-mail messages from her students. The telephone would be tied up all night if she didn’t.

More and more schools are sending e-mail blasts instead of mailing out traditional paper newsletters. And a growing number have established policies requiring teachers to respond to parent or student e-mails within a certain time period. Outside Charlotte, North Carolina, for instance, Matthews Elementary School asks that teachers respond to parent e-mails within 24 to 36 hours.

At first glance, it seems as though e-mail use among teachers is becoming universal. According to a recent survey conducted by the Denver-based Quality Education Data, the percentage of teachers using e-mail to stay in touch with the parents of elementary, middle, and high school students is 51 percent, 73 percent, and 68 percent, respectively—a majority at every grade level. But those numbers are actually lower than I would have expected. And many schools have yet to draft guidelines for using the technology. Clearly, e-mail is still not the preferred mode of communication for a considerable number of teachers.

As with any technology used in education, there are always benefits and drawbacks to consider. To better understand these issues, I interviewed (via e-mail, mind you) a handful of teachers who use the technology extensively to communicate with parents. They all cited a long list of benefits: E-mail makes it easier to maintain a paper trail of conversations, is quick and efficient because it replaces long-winded telephone conversations, allows for carefully crafted responses to questions, and lets teachers send uniform messages to large groups of parents without having to contact each one individually.

Elizabeth Harp, a special education teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland, told me that she also finds it easier to defuse angry parents via e-mail because she has time to think about her responses. Cossondra George, a math and technology teacher at Newberry Middle School in Michigan, concurs, writing, “When a parent is emotional, it is easier to control ... the situation” using e-mail.

But teachers are also well aware of the downsides. To begin with, George told me that some parents give her their e-mail addresses at the beginning of the school year but then rarely check their messages. She’s had to revert to sending home written messages to those parents. Others come to think that e-mail is a carte blanche connection to the teacher. “I had a parent request an e-mail every Sunday of what her child had done in class the week before, such as behavior, work turned in or not, et cetera, and the lesson plan for the upcoming week,” George writes.

Although e-mail allows time for thoughtful responses to parents, it can sometimes stunt the free flow of conversation that happens more naturally over the phone or in person, according to Mary Jackson. A gifted-program teacher at Garrison-Jones Elementary School in Pinellas County, Florida, she nonetheless considers herself a “big believer” in the value of e-mail for communicating with parents.

That leaves us with a dilemma. In most sectors of society, such as the one in which I work, e-mail is institutionalized as part of the culture of communication. You couldn’t survive as a journalist if you didn’t use it. Yet large numbers of teachers are doing just that. If the technology is at their fingertips and most parents are using it, should those educators be prodded, or even required, to use e-mail as their primary tool for staying in touch?

Related Tags:

Kevin Bushweller is the assistant managing editor for edweek.org and former project editor of Technology Counts. To comment on his column, visit teachermagazine.org.
A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2005 edition of Teacher as Got Mail


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

IT Infrastructure From Our Research Center What the Massive Shift to 1-to-1 Computing Means for Schools, in Charts
1-to-1 computing has expanded at a rate few could have imagined prior to the pandemic, creating opportunities and problems.
1 min read
Illustration of laptop computer displaying bar graph.
Illustration by F. Sheehan/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty and E+)
IT Infrastructure Internet on School Buses: FCC Eyes E-Rate Change to Expand Access
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced a proposal that would allow the use of federal E-rate funding for Wi-Fi in school buses.
2 min read
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year in the Texas school system.
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a WI-FI hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning on the first day of class Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in the parking lot of the Margaret M. Clark Aquatic Center in Brownsville, Texas. The bus is one of 20 hotspots throughout the city to help students have access to their online classes as part of the remote start to the school year due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP
IT Infrastructure Stopping Cyberattacks Is Top Priority for Ed-Tech Leaders. But Many Underestimate the Risk
Most K-12 district tech leaders rate common cybersecurity threats as just low or medium risk, survey shows.
4 min read
Images shows a symbolic lock on a technical background.
IT Infrastructure Spotlight Spotlight on Infrastructure Modernization
This Spotlight will help you grasp the reality of school infrastructure, parent privacy concerns, watchdog recommendations and more.