At the beginning of each semester, I make an effort to contact a parent or guardian for each student by phone. I try to do this during the second week of class. Usually by that point, all class changes are final, and my roster will be somewhat settled.
I say I “try” to do it during week 2, because if I’m honest, I’m lucky to get it done that quickly. Since we’re on semester blocks, I only have half of my class load at a time, which does make it easier than if I had all of my students for the full year. But it’s still a chore and a hassle. Many of the telephone numbers that we have in our records have been changed or are out of service. It doesn’t help that some of the telephone numbers in our district require ten-digit dialing WITH a one, and some require ten-digit dialing WITHOUT a one, or that there’s now only one telephone on each hall to be shared by all teachers who use that work room.
Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
But the truth is that while it’s tedious, it’s not actually difficult, and it’s one of the most useful things I do as a teacher. You become a person to the parent, rather than just the red pen that assigns a grade. And when expectations are clear from the start, it sets the foundation for a positive relationship. You can give parents a better understanding of how they can help their student be successful in your class.
Here are some strategies I have for making the initial phone contact go smoothly:
- Have a script. I feel more confident going into the call, and I know I won’t forget anything. I introduce myself, my homework policy, my late work policy, and the class website, and then I ask if they have any questions for me or if there’s anything they want me to know about their child.
- Keep it short. With so many parents to contact, and in many cases, multiple telephone numbers to try, it’s already going to be a lengthy process. My goal is to keep discussion to under three minutes. It doesn’t always work, because I like teaching, and so when parents show interest in what I bring up, I want to tell them about ALL of it! But it’s a goal.
- Take notes. It’s super easy to forget details that they share, especially since I don’t have a fact to put with the name or the information they give me. I created my own log file that has extra space on each line in addition to date, time, student name, and parent name (see below).
- Check information. Is this the best number to use for them? Also, I double-check the email address we have on file, and if there isn’t one, I ask if they have one at which I can contact them.
Parents are often less involved at the high school level. Two main factors are that students are becoming more independent (and do not want parents “hovering”), and their work is more challenging (and parents feel less able to offer help). So one thing I want to try to do is have some grammar practice, some writing, and some reading most days, and ask parents to have their students explain at least one of those elements to them each day.
What are some ways that you encourage parent involvement, especially at the secondary level?