Phone (or email, or SMS) Home

Reaching parents is a major frustration for many teachers; most parents work and can’t be readily contacted at their place of employment. Or in some cases, a telephone doesn’t even exist in the home. We can’t make a phone appear out of thin air, but here are a few suggestions for tracking down the elusive parent.

Make sure your contact info is up-to-date: Use an open house as an opportunity to verify the office’s student profile numbers against what a parent might give you directly, then keep that information in a notebook where you can access it easily.

Stretch the telephone boundaries: In some offices, email may get to your parent quicker than a phone message.

SMS (Short Message Service) can also be a good option for reaching busy parents that always tote a cell phone. When collecting cell phone numbers, ask if it’s okay to send an SMS. Most carriers charge a per-SMS fee unless you subscribe to a monthly plan, so you want to make sure that the parent won’t pay extra for receiving your message. Also, let them know up front that there are some guidelines, such as, you’ll only use SMS during school hours. Finally, communicate clearly and concisely: if Mom is in a business meeting and gets the message that “Tommy got hurt on the playground,” she may panic unnecessarily if the real message is that “Tommy scraped his knee – he’s ok and is getting a bandage from the nurse. No need to call.”

Share your own contact info: Provide an email address that you use only for parents and check regularly. If you use a service like Google’s Gmail, you can have those emails automatically forwarded to another email account of your choosing. This keeps work and personal separate.

Don’t abuse the system: Let your parents know you only will call them at work if it’s serious.

Have a back-up plan: Make sure you have alternate numbers of other family or friends if your first contact fails.

Know how to play phone tag: Okay, we hate answering machines, but no matter how you slice it, they can be efficient methods of contact if you play by the rules:

1. Speak slowly and distinctly. A hurried message may indicate your urgency, but if it gets garbled you’re wasting your time.
2. Spell your name and leave a number at the beginning of your message so they know exactly who they are to call.
3. Leave a message, but keep it to 45 seconds or less if possible.
4. Be specific about what you want them to do.
5. Tell them if you have specific times when you can be reached.
6. Speak your number again slowly at the end of the message so they don’t have to rewind to get it.
7. Leave instructions in your office if the call is returned but you are unavailable to take it.

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