Tatum Omari was a kindergarten teacher in both Berkeley and Oakland, California, for years until this past school year, when she began a new role as curriculum director for education.com, where she is using her expertise in curriculum planning, the Common Core State Standards, and technology integration to create online resources for teachers and parents.
By Tatum Omari
For a teacher, giving out your cell phone number to nervous parents seems like a recipe for disaster. But for me, it was part of a toolbox of strategies I amassed over time to make my job easier, not harder.
I adopted the practice as something of an obligation. The teacher I took over for at a school I worked at for a number of years gave out her cell phone number every year at Back-to-School Night. At the time, I did not. However, when the time came for me to take over her classroom mid-year, the expectation was already set. I nervously handed over my number to the parents I had just met, and waited for the 10 p.m. texts to arrive.
But that’s not what happened. Rarely did I get a text at all, let alone at an inappropriate time — but parents appreciated having the option if they needed it. I found that this mutual respect and appreciation set the tone for the relationship that I built with the parents in my classroom for the rest of the year. The message I communicated by taking on that legacy was that I trusted them. Making that first move in trusting them later helped them to trust me.
After that first year, I adopted this practice as my own and began giving out my number every year. Here’s a short list of what kind of messages I received:
• Emergencies (i.e. “I missed the train and I’m going to be late, can you ask so and so if they might mind helping out until I arrive?”)
• Notes of appreciation (i.e. “I just wanted to say thank you so much for all you do, I keep trying to find time to tell you in person but I always feel awkward because you are surrounded. You rock, though, and we love you!”)
• Short-notice volunteer opportunities (i.e. “I know you have that bulletin board you’ve been wanting to put up and I have some extra time this afternoon. If you leave the materials out I’d be happy to get it done for you.”)
• Homework questions (i.e. “Hi Ms. Omari, can you please help? We are confused by the math page in this week’s homework.”)
In all of these scenarios, parents having my phone number only served to make my job easier. Trust me, I was as surprised as you! Whether it helped me calm the nerves of an anxious student (“Don’t worry, your mom will be here soon. She’s just running late!”), or complete a project I couldn’t have tackled on my own, or even just reassured me that I was good at my job, I found that I was building a closer relationship with both my students and their parents.
It also helped me be a better teacher to all of my students—not just the ones whose parents were texting me.
To use the homework example above, the reason that parent was confused was because I had accidentally assigned the wrong page and it was something we hadn’t covered yet. Luckily, because of their text right after school, I was able to quickly e-mail all of the parents with revised instructions for the homework, saving a lot of confusion. Had this issue been raised via e-mail, I probably wouldn’t have seen it until the next day where I would have been greeted by a barrage of parents explaining that their child could not do last night’s assignment.
For parents who may be reading this and wondering why you don’t have your child’s teacher’s cell phone number, keep in mind that it is a personal choice to give out your personal phone number. This practice has worked well for me, but no one practice works for everyone.
For teachers who may want to give this a try, here are a few ways to get started:
• If you are going to give out your cell phone number, make sure that all parents have access to it. Providing it in your Back-to-School Night packet and your first class newsletter are great opportunities to get it out to everyone.
• Set some basic guidelines for appropriate times when texting is acceptable and remind them that e-mailing you any other time is totally welcome.
• Let parents know when you will be able to respond to texts and how quickly, so they know what to expect.
Building trust and a positive relationship with the parents of your students, whether that’s by giving out your cell phone number or not, is one of the best ways to ensure a great school year. Sometimes the key to earning trust is by giving your trust to others.