I have about 80 students at North Carolina Virtual Public School in North Carolina and I have a fabulous relationship with each and every one of them. I rarely hear their voices, but I talk with them each and every week. I don’t have any hard and fast data on this, but I’m able to speak to experience: Students don’t like talking with teachers on the phone. At first I was a little insulted when I figured this out. I quickly had a flashback of myself in 9th grade trying to find a place to sit in the cafeteria to no avail. Then, thinking of myself as a 9th grader, I realized I probably wouldn’t have wanted to talk with a 32-year-old teacher over the phone on a Sunday night either. I especially wouldn’t have wanted to talk with that teacher if he’d been calling because my grades weren’t all they could be.
It’s easy to not answer the phone. I do it myself sometimes, especially when I’m spending time with my wife. I used to call students constantly, but I found that they rarely answer their phones. I’m guestimating that out of 20 phone calls, maybe five students pick up. If I leave 15 messages, which is incredibly time consuming, I often get an almost instant reply via text message. The lesson here is that students feel more comfortable texting.
I remember my “aha moment”one day in particular while I was on my way to pay my H.O.A dues in Raleigh, NC. I could have paid by check in the mail, but that’s so old fashioned it makes me sick. It takes me almost as much time find my checkbook, buy stamps from the store, and then go back to buy envelopes once I get home from buying stamps that I’d most often rather just drive to the office and pay my dues. When I got to the office to pay my H.O.A. dues, I complained that paying by check in the mail is old fashioned and a waste of time and energy. I was complaining to an old lady who looks like my grandmother though; she looked at me like she was grateful for the U.S. Post Office, because back in her day she had to saddle a horse to pay her HOA dues. Of course, mid-complaint it struck me that my students were making the same argument to me: Texting is faster, easier, and there’s a digital record of the transaction.
From that day, I’ve used Google Voice to text students much, much more often than I call them. Sometimes an odd one will call me every day with a question (much love to N’Kae) and I love hearing from them, but I want to share what I’ve learned from texting my students. First, make sure you use Google Voice. You don’t want to use your cell phone to text your students. Sure, tie your Google Voice account to your phone; but make sure you’re able to use your keyboard to text message them. Trust me,your students can text message faster than you can.
Your standard mode operation, or M.O., should be this: You reach out about once every week to everyone via Google Voice on your computer. Use your keyboard, Excel, and a lot of copying and pasting for this. Then, respond to the responses as they come in using your keyboard and Google Voice. As the week progresses, you’re going to get messages when you’re away from your computer. Use your cell phone for these; all smart phones will give you access to the Google Voice app and notify you when you have a message.
The general rule is that you’ll use your keyboard when you’ve got some heavy texting to do, and you’ll use your cell phone to keep up with your students throughout the week. In this way, you will meet the needs of your customers while improving your teacher-student contact at the same time.
I’m available to help you and your school via webinar or even face-to-face training sessions with Google tools. Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll set up a session at your school. I genuinely want your teachers to stay in touch with their students and parents. Remember that successful contacts are relationships, and positive relationships are motivation.