Advice for Beginning Teachers: Don’t Ignore the Signs

ImageI was driving home from the Cleveland Indians game last night when I passed a sign on the highway stating that the left lane was closed two miles ahead. I moved to the center lane, and a car pulled up beside me.

A little further, another sign: LEFT LANE CLOSED, 1 MILE AHEAD.

The car was still driving next to me.

A little further, another sign: LEFT LANE CLOSED, ½ MILE AHEAD.

The car was STILL driving next to me.

A little further, another sign: LEFT LANE CLOSED ¼ MILE AHEAD.

The car was STILL driving next to me!

You know what happened next, because it either happens to you all the time or you do it to others all the time. The left lane started ending, and the car that had been driving next to me for the past two miles cut me off, sending me into a tizzy shouting about how there had been signs warning him for TWO MILES and how could anyone be SO STUPID to IGNORE THE SIGNS and how could he HAVE A LICENSE IN THE FIRST PLACE?!?!?!?

It’s enough to drive you crazy, isn’t it? I mean, seriously, there were signs for two miles—plenty of warning—and the car still didn’t do anything about it until it was too late.

We do the same things in schools sometimes, don’t we? Maybe we have a student who doesn’t turn in an assignment. Maybe he fails a quiz or two. Misses another assignment. Comes tardy to class. Fails a test. And before you know it, the end of the grading period is here, the student is getting a solid F, and we have not made a single effort to contact parents to alert them that there may be a problem.

Oh sure, we may have submitted grades on our web based grading system. But is that really enough? Would we go to a doctor that made us read our own chart?

In my twenty-one years of education, I can tell you exactly how many times I’ve had a complaint from a parent that I communicate too much: ZERO.

With today’s technology, there is never an excuse not to have strong communication with parents: email, Twitter, web pages, and all the other ways that I don’t even know about.

But I still contend that the single most underused piece of technology in classrooms today is the telephone. There is something about real human interaction that technology can’t replace. Don’t believe me? Ever have a spouse or child in the armed forces? Ever send a child off to camp or college?

Next to actually sitting in a room with a parent of a student, nothing replaces the value of contact via the telephone. It’s a tool that is simple, available and free. As a new generation of tech savvy teachers get ready to embark on their new careers this fall, I encourage them to embrace new technology and make it part of their daily work.

But, don’t forget the old technology. The invention of the elevator didn’t make the stairs any less effective.

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