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Virginia Journal of Education

Pick Up the Phone

by Lynne Savoy

Every teacher is told to spend time communicating with parents. I think this is emphasized for the best possible reason-it works! I teach Employment Plus in Chesapeake, to at-risk students who are two to three grade levels behind. You would be shocked (well, maybe not) with the number of parents who don't know their child is failing until it's too late. You might also be surprised by how supportive parents can be if you give them a chance.

A phone call the first or second week of class sets the tone for the rest of the year. Hopefully, at this point, you will only have positive comments to make. When I call home that first week, parents are shocked and appreciative that I made the effort. The comment I hear most often from parents is, "I haven't had a positive phone call from a teacher in years!" This is usually followed by, "God bless you!"--which I can always use. This is the perfect time to let the parents know how much you love teaching. Let them know they can call you anytime. Parents and students have my home and work phone numbers. Every parent knows that we are in this journey together. It takes a village to get most students to transition to the next level of adulthood. Because my students have attendance issues, I call every time they miss a day. Often I'll call in front of the class to let a parent know his child is not present. Sometimes, the parent will find the child and personally bring him to school.

I also call immediately if any kind of issue arises. Many of my students also have behavior issues. They are not strangers to suspensions, as well as the court system. I call the minute a student is disrespectful to me. If I call home and leave a message, I make every effort to continue to call until I speak directly to the student's parent. This takes my students completely by surprise, but they also appreciate my tenacity. I call whenever they miss a day. It's easy to let absences multiply. When I call, it makes everyone aware of their status, and encourages accountability. If by some chance I do not call, students tell me they are usually hurt. It takes a lot of time initially, but it is well worth it in the long run.

The biggest challenges every teacher faces in communicating with parents is securing a working telephone number and finding an available phone in the school. My students may have four or five phone numbers during one school year. It's difficult to keep in contact when the phone has been disconnected. With perseverance, I can usually keep up with the number changes. To be honest, when I "lose" a student, it is often because I could not speak regularly with his parent. It's also hard to call home when you don't have access to an outside line. I'm one of the lucky ones; I have an outside line in my classroom. I encourage new teachers facing discipline problems to use my phone. One phone call can often make an unbearable situation workable.

I'm often amazed when some of my colleagues balk at calling parents. Why would you not call? What if your child was disrespectful to an adult? What if your child was in danger of failing due to attendance? You do for your students' parents what you would want someone to do for you. In a perfect world, all students would accept responsibility for their actions. We're not living in a perfect world, so I suggest you get parents involved. All of us have challenging students. We all have challenging days. When parents know, without a doubt, that we want the same success for their child that we want for our own, we get their unconditional support. It's a win-win-win!

Savoy is a member of the Chesapeake Education Association.


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