Career Questions: Personal Contact from Parents
Q: At Open House in September, I gave parents my personal cell phone number as well as my personal email and encouraged them to contact me with any questions or concerns they might have. I wanted to show parents that I am committed to helping their kids succeed. Unfortunately, some parents have taken advantage of my offer. My inbox nearly always has messages from parents (often the same ones) and every evening brings a barrage of phone calls about homework assignments. Some parents contact me late in the evening and on weekends about little things that could wait until Monday. I feel like I have no life of my own anymore but I don’t know how to get out of this situation I created for myself.
A: A cynic might say that no good deed goes unpunished, but teachers are not cynics! So instead I will say while it’s laudable that you are so committed to your students’ progress, you do have to find a way to separate your professional and your personal life. No one should be on call 24/7; even doctors hire services to deal with emergencies outside of office hours.
You may not be able to completely extricate yourself from the situation this year, but you can take some actions that will mitigate the frequency of after-school contacts.
1) If your school has a website that allows teachers and parents to communicate with one another, ask parents to check the site before contacting you directly. Post assignments daily so that students and parents can check the site to see if the homework assignment is all the odd problems or all the even ones. Check your messages on the school site daily, but at your convenience.
2) Send parents an email and/or send a note home with students addressing parent contact tactfully but in a straightforward manner. Here’s an example:
I am always happy to answer your questions or concerns, but I would appreciate your contacting me during school hours or before 9 PM on weekdays only. If I am not available when you call, please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as I can. If you would like to meet with me for a conference about your child, please call the school at (phone number) and I will contact you as soon as possible.
Reasonable parents will get the message. See #3 for unreasonable parents.
3) Do not answer calls or texts after 9 PM (or whatever time you decide is appropriate). Let parent calls go to voice mail; you can decide when (but not if) you want to return the call.
4) Keep in mind that you need to answer parent calls, texts, or emails in a timely manner, but not necessarily immediately.
These suggestions should reduce the number of parent contacts you’ll get personally, but a few parents may continue to call or email directly anyway. Unfortunately, you will have to handle these contacts for a while. Next year … use your school mail or website and do not give out personal contact information. And by the way, if you think that you’d like to use Facebook to contact students and parents, check first with your principal about school policy.