Parental support and involvement can elevate a school to new heights. Teachers can and should communicate with their students’ home as much as possible. But how far should we take it; is it necessary to share your private cell phone number with parents?
Communicating with parents is an integral part of being an effective teacher. Should you make yourself available 24/7 by giving out your phone number? It’s a personal choice every teacher must grapple with. Thanks to technology, you can share contact information AND retain your privacy.
I think the factors for sharing personal contact information varies depending upon the grade you teach. An elementary school teacher has far fewer students, which makes frequent contact more attainable.
Sharing your number with 25 parents will result in far fewer calls than a secondary teacher would face. There is also less chance that the student herself will access your number. These are two arguments in favor of creating that personal relationship with guardians by revealing your contact info.
However, it just takes one or two high-maintenance moms (sorry, but it is usually moms) to make you regret your decision. You can be subjected to the helicopter mom who hovers over every facet of her kid’s education. She will question EVERYTHING, from grades to homework questions and where her child sits in class.
Then there’s the chatty one. Maybe her last child entered school, so she has lots of time to talk. You don’t! Next you have the teacher-wannabe. She will look to discuss in depth everything from curriculum to methods of student outcomes.
Finally, you must consider the fact that a portion of the population is emotionally unstable. That means some of that population will wind up being a parent or guardian of your students. Or be one of your students. The numbers are small, but one disturbed person can threaten your career.
My very first year teaching (middle school) two girls had a fight after class and one of them clearly won, scratching and injuring the other. The next day injured girl’s mother showed up after school and beat up her daughter’s nemesis! Do I want to give that parent my number? Heck no!
There are a very different set of circumstances at the secondary level. As a high school teacher I currently have 154 students on my roster. That’s a LOT of potential calls and texts!
I almost never give out my phone number. A few years ago during parent-teacher conferences a very nice mom asked for my phone number. I gave it to her, partly because I’m not usually put on the spot like that. And I’m a pushover.
She texted and contacted me several times, always respectfully, but often. One Sunday I received a call from her. It was not an emergency. Even though it was a quick communication, I have worked very hard for many, many years to reach the point where I don’t work on Sundays. The call killed my not-thinking-about-work-all-day buzz.
Teens are much more likely to get their hands on your number if they know a parent has it. It only takes one knucklehead to make a bad decision, like sharing on social media or crank calls at 2:00 in the morning.
You must again consider the emotionally disturbed. A teenager by definition is not emotionally mature; their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. That makes for impulse control problems. I remember how my brain worked when I was sixteen — it’s a wonder I got through relatively unscathed.
High school age students often develop a crush on a teacher. They can become obsessed and act irrationally. If feeling rejected they can make allegations that can be a nightmare to deal with. Granted, this can happen without giving out your number, but it would just exacerbate the situation.
By now you’ve probably deduced that I’m not a fan of sharing contact info at the high school level. I know of one teacher in a private school that publishes all the teachers’ number in their handbook to parents. That would make me very uneasy.
A Great Middle Ground
One solution you can utilize is *67. By dialing *67 followed by the number you’re calling your phone number will be blocked. I’m sure this is not news to many. The problem is that more and more people block incoming calls that are not identified. It always seems to be the parent I most need to reach that uses this feature.
From the day I traded my chalk for a SMART Board, technology has improved my teaching life. It has also fixed my phone conundrum. Have you heard of a free service called Google Voice? It’s a telephone service that allows you to have a second phone number on your phone. You simply download the app and — voila, calling and texting at your fingertips.
This was a game changer for me. My first choice of communication with parents is texting. Once I had the app I could call and text to my heart’s desire, and parents had a number to reach me. Best of all, I simply do not check that number on the weekend. Best of all worlds!
Balancing dedication to your students and personal privacy is a constant tightrope walk. How much should I share about my life? How close should I get to any particular student? Can I throw a barbecue and invite my class? How many nights and weekends should I devote to school and the kids?
The answers are personal and predicated on individual circumstances. I believe in order to teach AND thrive you must draw lines in the sand. You well-being depends upon it.
Finally, maybe your parents aren’t the problem, it’s your students. Do you have some students you simply don’t like? Check out this article to help you.