Giving students my cell phone number wasn’t by choice. Part of my contract states that I have to provide my number to students. I teach at a school with a high immigrant population, which means most of our parents aren’t able to help their kids with homework.
And so, with some misgivings—counterbalanced by a desire for gainful employment—I put my number on the syllabus and wrote it in the corner of the whiteboard.
That was ten years ago, which means that just over 1,000 middle school kids have had constant access to their beloved Language Arts teacher. The conclusion I’ve reached?
The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
In ten years, I’ve gotten two prank calls, both from the school bus in the middle of the afternoon. I’ve heard from a few parents, but most stop calling after a single reminder that my cell phone number is for student use only.
(Although I was once subjected to an angry rant about liberal politics at 10:00 on a Friday night from an intoxicated parent…that was exciting.)
On the other hand, I get lots of texts about homework. There’s one kid who likes to take a picture of her work and send it to me to ask if she wrote enough, which is kind of annoying. But most of the time the kids ask good questions.
I get calls from kids with questions about scholarships to private high schools. I get last-minute recommendation requests. I get questions about acceptable attire for the chorus concert or the field trip or the Halloween dance.
Kids do more than just ask questions.
When I was out for maternity leave, the kids sent their congratulations. If I miss a day because I’m sick, they check on me. They let me know if they win a soccer game, or they send pictures of new puppies or shoes or baby sisters.
I didn’t expect writing ten digits on the board to build a community, but it did.
I don’t just hear from current students, either.
Kids call in a variety of crises even after they’ve left my school. I’ve gotten calls when a parent was arrested. I’ve had long post-breakup conversations.
Once I got a call from the suicide hotline because a former student had given my number as a trusted adult. One time a kid texted me a picture of the rash on his brother’s arm and asked what he should do about it. (I recommended cortisone. Because an English degree is basically the same as being a doctor.)
Do I relish spending my weekends talking to fifteen-year-olds about whether to sign up for AP or joint enrollment English? Well, it’s not my first choice. But my kids need somebody who can provide a new perspective for a variety of life experiences, and I’m honored that they come to me.
My misgivings turned out to be totally unfounded.
Yeah, it’s a hassle when eleven kids text me to ask what the homework was (despite my clearly-stated policy that I will HELP with the homework, but only if they know what the assignment is).
But when a student from three years ago calls to invite me to his spring musical? It’s totally worth it.