A few years ago, sometime in March, I received a phone call from a parent asking if it was too late for her to hand in her son’s senior portraits. I kindly responded that the deadline had passed in November and the pages had gone to press in January. That, apparently, wasn’t a good enough answer because the parent began talking about how she didn’t know about any of this and how it wasn’t communicated clearly. I did my best to remain calm and told her that there have been things posted to the yearbook’s website, items placed in the school newsletter that is emailed home to parents, and announcements over the PA.
“Well, they don’t pay attention to that,” she said.
I said I was sorry and the conversation ended soon after. Well, at least my part of the conversation ended. The parent thought that calling my principal and speaking to him directly would result in her son’s picture getting into a yearbook that by that point was pretty much put to bed. All it resulted in was my standing in front of a photocopier several times the following year making 250 flyers so they could be distributed to senior homerooms and English classes every two weeks and sending out 30-40 individual letters home–at my expense–so that my principal wouldn’t get another phone call that a student or parent weren’t paying attention.
If it sounds like I’m bitter, it’s because I am, especially because all of this extra work and killing of trees on my part didn’t result in a significant decrease in the number of names on the “not pictured” list. So it was a lot of extra work to cover my ass.
I find I also do this in my English class–printing out more handouts than I’d like with more detailed instructions than I’d like all so that when a student claims he or she “didn’t know we were doing that” or a parent tells me that the kid is lost, they also can’t claim that it’s my fault that he/she doesn’t pay enough attention.
While I don’t think this is the only reason a number of teachers don’t make more of an effort to cultivate a “paperless classroom,” it definitely has to be one of them. I personally love the idea of using an online platform to handle class administrivia, but then I struggle with with not being able to hold anyone accountable for it.
Why is this? Well, this could go in the direction of a “students are lazy post,” and it will. But not in the way that we typically complain that students are lazy. The laziness here is less that inherent laziness of teenagers (i.e., “kids these days”) and more the result of something acquired through years of experience that developed expectations on their part as “consumers” of information in a classroom. In other words, by the time they reach my sophomore English class, parents and students are so used to being given information that the idea of actively engaging is a foreign concept.
I’m the parent of a six-year-old boy. He was in kindergarten last year and the teacher was very good at getting information out to all of the parents in the class. We got emails, newsletters, and flyers on a regular basis, so if we wanted to find out what was going on in the class (upcoming activities, field trips, etc.), we didn’t have to do anything more than check our email. There was no need to make a mental note to check a website or log in to a social media platform or take whatever extra step was necessary to seek out the information because it was fed to me. And it was incredibly convenient, of course, but I wonder if it set a dangerous precedent. My wife and I are the type of parents who do take that extra step and engage the teacher when we need to and would check a site or blog if things weren’t getting fed to us. But not every parent is like that and that’s when you get phone calls about who pays or doesn’t pay attention to what.
We often talk about engaging students and parents online and how that is a part of good communication and that’s an excellent idea; however, when we make that effort, we also need to get the point across that good communication between a teacher, students, and parents is a two-way (even multi-directional) street. As students get older and are supposedly taking control of or “owning” their own classroom experience, they and their parents must realize that means they’re also responsible for it. I take no issue with adjusting the ways in which I communicate to make it easier or accommodating certain needs, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear “Well, they don’t pay attention to that” as if it’s some sort of legitimate reason or excuse ever again.