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Teachers and E-mail

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E-mail has become institutionalized as part of the culture of communication, but large numbers of teachers don't use it to reach out to parents, Kevin Bushweller writes in Classroom Tech column.

Should those educators be prodded, or even required, to use e-mail as their primary tool for staying in touch? What are the benefits and drawbacks of using e-mail to communicate with parents and students?

21 Comments

I guess that I'm the first to respon to this topic - oh well.

There isn't too much to say except that when we have a luxury in our profession, we need to use it because there aren't too many of these so-called, "luxuries."

Teacher web pages, and e-mail are perfect tools in helping to alleviate pile-up work that would otherwise be handled by secretaries (as in every other profession). The phone is not the better way to go besides, e-mail is written documentation of the issue, and/or concerns being addressed.

Again, my belief in a 12-month position (and a 12-month salary, not 12-month position and a 10-month salary in 24 stipends) would assist these classroom professionals in becoming more technologically literate. Use e-mail, get a web page design and display it. This is how middle- America works, and it is on this that it thrives.

For several years I have offered e-mail newsletters to parents. Only 3 responded in all those years, and then only 1 of those actually read the newsletter when it was sent. We live in a small rural community, serving low and middle income families for the most part. Until recently, several of them did not even have the internet or a computer at home.

This year, I have set up a website through the school's system, and have had nearly 600 hits since I set it up. I found out that some parents from other classes were occasionally visiting it to get news of events.

Several still do not have computers at home, but at least they can access the web by the public library -- if they go there. I find it much easier to update my website weekly than to print newsletters, and it has cut back on the phone calls from many parents.

I prefer to not to email parents. I am available during my conference period, after school (by appointment) and by telephone.

Teachers should be accessible by phone, appointment and/or e-mail to interested students and parents. They should also have recommendations of available resources to help students and parents (and sometimes teachers) who are asking for such help.

Among the possible advantages of e-mai are avoidance of the time-consuming "phone-tag games" and the ability to address multiple parties with one typed message.

On the other hand, in an environment of many rules and sensitivities, some folks and even teachers don't like to be "on the record" and may avoid e-mailing for that reason. Don't we need to lighten up a bit?

Over the last three years I have been using a website and email to keep in touch with not only the students but their parents, as well. It has been a wonderful tool and I highly recommend it to all educators.

I keep a record of all of my mail, this has come in handy duirng parent conferences. It is also an open forum for the students. They can write and ask questions about the homework. We have set up times during some projects, when the students know that I will be monitoring my school website. This allows us to problem solve if necessary.

This form of communication allows the working parent to keep up to date with their student long before there is a problem reflected on a report card.

In an age of technology, everyone in education needs to keep up. Email is the most efficient means of communication today. Phone tag can last for days, catching someone in person is rarely feasible, and conference times are limited. In my county, appointments are made for 15 minutes or less, hardly enough time when there is a real problem to discuss.

I work at a university, and almost all communication in every direction is via email. If time is the issue, you can set a time that you will answer all of them. If technology is the issue, use of email will make you more comfortable. It's a win-win situation when most parents work the hours that teachers are available.

I think educators that are not taking advantage of this simple, immediate form of communication are doing their students and their parents a disservice. I have found that aside from a face-to-face conference, this mode of communication is by far the most convenient and effective method of communication we have available to us (provided the parents have email).

I would like to say that all of these responses are right-on, and have great merit.

I guess that we need to be cogizant of each individual, and his or her personal situation. SOme things work better for some than for others. Also, there are situations where e-mail might just not work, and a face-to-face conference would be the way to go.

I have to agree with everyone here!

It is great to see that there may be so many varried responses to one single issue! I personally hold it a self-evident truth that Emails are a great means of networking and ensuring real-time communication. I have been using this device with the teachers I supervise as well as with my university students , and it proved to be efficient. I can hardly see any harm or inconvenience in using Emails...

Often times I get behind on answering e-mail questions from parents. In my classroom I use my time on my students. I don't believe in grading papers, working on the computer, or answering e-mails when I am suppose to be teaching and assisting students in the learning process. I use my 45 min planning time to do these items. Grading papers is number one on my list of things to do. I so not like to take papers home to grade due to the fact I have four children and a busy life. I have to go planning is over and I wasted a bit of time on this comment.

I encourage staff members to use offer email to parents who wish to check on a students progress. It affords the teacher time to gather data regarding the student and write and edit a response that's positive. I take my own advice and tell parents to email me every 2 weeks or so for an update on their childs progress if they wish. Very few parents actually do though.

Be careful how you use email. For example, a face to face conversation is infinitely better than email for dealing with 'tough' issues such as discipline or unsatisfactory progress. When that conversation is finished, however, recap what was discussed in an email for the record. Be sure to copy yourself for your file. That way you can remind the recipients of what was discussed if that ever becomes necessary.

Email purports to convey emotion, but in reality the writer has to be extremely artful in conveying that emotion. Your words will be misinterpreted unless you follow a few simple protocols. Avoid ALL CAPS. Use Smiley's. Insert softening phrases as necessary. Use chat room expressions such as LOL or ROTFL. These things 'humanize' and personalize email.

My point? Email offers educators an excellent link with parents. Its effectiveness will be in direct proportion to your skilful use of it.

Not only have I (and continue to do) used email to communicate with parents, but I use it to stay in touch with former students, provide information to current students (writing contests, interesting and pertinent articles, etc.). I also have two students from different classes reading the same book, and since I can't meet with both of them at the same time, we conduct our discussion via email/messenger, with parent approval, of course. I find that having this technology available and using it effectively and professionally is such a time-saver and one fabulous perk to have at our fingertips. I only wish that when my own children were in middle school the "system" had been used as extensively!!

Not only have I (and continue to do) used email to communicate with parents, but I use it to stay in touch with former students, and provide information to current students (writing contests, interesting and pertinent articles, etc.). I also have two students from different classes reading the same book, and since I can't meet with both of them at the same time, we conduct our discussion via email/messenger, with parent approval, of course. I find that having this technology available and using it effectively and professionally is such a time-saver and one fabulous perk to have at our fingertips. I only wish that when my own children were in middle school the "system" had been used as extensively!!

Not all my students' parents have email addresses. So I still end up typing letters and passing it to the parents via the students.

Nonetheless, I do give out my email add to them.

I work with Latino families that are migrant and though I realize that their economical resources for access to the internet are limited, I still think that it would be a wonderful idea to teach parents how to use the internet for this purpose. If the schools would also make their computer labs to teach computer skills to Spanish speaking parents or to parents in general. This would also ease their way into their schools if the teacher/staff makes that invitation via e-mail. Of course, this isn't the only way that a teacher can communicate with a parent. All options can be available, telephone, letters, appointments, whatever will work as long as the opportunity for communication is there.

I respond when emailed, but I prefer the phone. It's quicker and allows for immediate dialogue.

I really do like the idea of using email to post announcements to families. But my problem is that some families do not have computers or internet access and so I don't feel as if that is fair. Also i don't like posting homework on the web because it takes out the responsibility of the kids writing down their homework. I want parents to know what their homework is, but it just makes it too easy. Plus I don't think anyone would read it anyway because they dont read the notes I send home.

I think that it is an excellent way to communicate. You do not have to reach the parent at home. Your message can be longer and more specific than a voice mail. Parents can leave important information without having to wait for the teachers "planning period" .

Response to "JULIE O" As a parent I DO read notes that actually COME home.. I have a very intelligent child who is on to the notes...so I don't always get them. "I don't like posting homework on the web..because it takes responsibility of the kids writing down their homework. ...but it makes it too easy"??? Are you out of your MIND?!!! The main purpose here is to TEACH. Even if the kids DO write the homework down, it doesn't always make it's way home. Also many times the very clever child will say "I don't have any homework" Julie, you obviously do not have children of your own! That's the whole problem with parent/teacher communication there is NONE! Teachers don't call you back. They call to "vent" about your uncooperative child but don't have any solutions. They don't want to work with the parents. It's too easy to say the parents don't read the notes..etc... The problem is when Teachers like you want to throw everything back at the parents, make excuses and don't really want to be problem solvers and sucessful with the kids that are not EASY to teach! Oh bother have we seen dozens like you along the way. How sad it is. If you will try every way possible to communicate with the parents,THEY can help you TEACH the kids. Oh yeah...the ones that don't have email MAY have phones...

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