Kids will not tell their parents anything except the things you don’t want them to hear.
The Black Hole
Whatever you hand to a middle school student to give to her parents, plan that they will never see it. Materials given to a middle school student disappear into a black hole, usually at the bottom of a backpack. The event horizon on the edge of the backpack sucks things into it, and they are never seen again. As soon as you realize this, you can deal with the dilemma that plagues all middle school teachers: How do I communicate with parents?
Cut out the middle-man.
No matter how many times I lecture, warn, or cajole a middle school student, the correspondence that I hand out ends up crumpled in the trash can, stuffed into a desk, lining the backpack, tossed under a cupboard, or discarded into a recycle bin where it ceases to exist anymore in time and space. This information simply disappears into thin air. If I had a GATE student for every time that I heard a parent say, “I ask: Do you have anything for me from school? I never get anything back from her,” I could show videos all day! So, to be safe, let us assume that whatever you distribute to kids will not be seen by the parents. In order to be a successful communicator with parents, cut out the middle-man – the middle school student.
Mail it. If you have unbounded resources and you purchased a lifetime supply of the Forever Stamp, you can mail everything to the house, and it will get there without being touched. Remind a middle school student that to tamper with the U.S. Mail is a federal offense punishable by prison and cons eat middle school students for breakfast. But if I teach in a middle school in California, I will have five periods of thirty-three students that will cost me almost $70 every time I need to get something home. This method is not feasible.
Deliver it. If you have unbounded resources, work experience at Domino’s Pizza, and a reliable car, you can take it straight to the student’s house. If you time it right, you’ll get a free dinner out of it, too. At this writing, fuel is hovering around $3.25 per gallon, and it will take all night to personally visit 165 students. I can’t do that because I have papers to read every night and classes to teach the next day. This method is not feasible.
Email it. This approach is more feasible if the item to be sent home says the same thing and it is available in an attachable file. Organize your address book with the names and email addresses of 165 parents, and some of the material you need them to see will be seen. However, not all parents have email addresses. Email addresses change. Servers go down. Not all items are cyber-friendly. Some parents block certain subjects. Some servers tag mass mailings as spam and block the sender. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it has a few wrinkles in it that plastic surgery cannot fix. This method may not be feasible.
Cell phones. Consider this: If you have something important to send home, have all students with cell phones get them, turn them on, take a picture of it, and message it to their parents and tell them that they have something in their backpack that needs to be read tonight. This works for three reasons:
Middle school students gain prestige if they have a cell phone.
Middle school students love to TM (text message.)
Middle school students love to do things that seem like they are against the rules.
At least some of the material will get home that didn’t get there before you tried the cell phone method. This method is feasible.
Website. Most teachers can get a free website by now if they need it. Post all take home material on your website. In the menu, name a page Read This First. Then, if you handed anything out, scan it and post it on the site. If you can’t scan it, just list it. Even if it is not downloadable, the parents now know that their kid has something they haven’t seen yet and may inquire about it. Teacherweb.com is the best Website I’ve used, but it’s so expensive most school districts cannot afford it. My district is canceling the account this year for an in-house Website. We’ll see if that one works. Google Sites is easy to design and you can provide a link to parents at Back-to-School night.
Twitter. Set up a teacher Twitter account and tweet anything you want parents to see. Have them follow you at Back-to-School Night. They can set it up as you speak to them.
Finally, if nothing else works, staple the handout to the student’s forehead.*
*I’m being facetious. Some idiot teacher will actually do this, and then I’ll get sued and my teaching career will end, and I’ll end up giving seminars to teachers about writing programs that don’t work.
©2018 Douglas Hanks. All rights reserved.
Art teacher texting photo by Bruce Mars.