I have a confession to make. I, an educator, recently responded to my daughter’s teacher with an email of the kind we all dread receiving. She had reached out about several missing assignments, which I appreciated. But she also implied that my daughter, a high schooler, had intentionally made herself unavailable during online class that morning. We were right in the middle of a move and, on that particular day, my daughter logged into classes from our real estate agent’s house. She had trouble connecting to the internet and kept her camera off because people were coming and going in the background.
Nonetheless, I 100% should have let it go.
Or handled it more diplomatically. It was the last week before winter break. The teacher was tired. I was tired. My daughter was tired. Instead, I unleashed my stress and frustration. I wasn’t very nice. I later emailed to apologize.
I have always tried to take care in how I communicate to my daughter’s teachers, wanting to send the email I would like to receive. And yet, in the moment I forgot my own rule—it was as simple as hitting the send button.
The teacher made assumptions, and I made assumptions right back.
I know I am not alone in saying that one of the most dreadful aspects of teaching is the daily burden of parental email exchanges. Parents are worried, frustrated, and sometimes downright angry. Email provides far too easy of an outlet for making teachers the recipient of those emotions. The toll of those exchanges is significant. Recent research has shown that rude emails can have a lingering and detrimental effect on the daily lives of their recipients. That impact extends to sleep, family life, and overall sense of well-being. Impolite emails also reduce productivity.
Simply put, stressful email exchanges make teachers less effective in the classroom, and they have a lasting impact on their health. There should honestly be no emails between the teacher and parent.
I wonder what it would look like if schools simply prohibited email communication between parents and teachers.
My parents couldn’t email my teachers when I was in high school. They sent letters or made phone calls. A certain amount of time had to pass between exchanges, allowing for perspective and emotions to cool. It also meant there was significantly less communication between parents and teachers. That might not sound appealing to a generation of hover-parents, but I think it’s a good and necessary thing if we want to reduce the number of teachers quitting the vocation from burnout.
If I knew the only means of communicating with my daughter’s teacher was via phone, I am absolutely certain I would not have arranged to talk about it. It was a one-off. Likewise, it is unlikely her teacher would have reached out to me. This would have put more impetus on my daughter to be the communicator, and it would have saved both her teacher and myself a weekend of stress.
Connecting over the phone allows both parties to see the humanness of one another.
Hearing someone else’s voice creates compassion and empathy that are rarely activated through the back and forth of email. I will be honest—I hate talking on the phone. But if I had to choose between one phone call at the end of the day or eight emails, I would definitely choose that phone call.
We are under the illusion that more communication is a good thing. But research suggests otherwise. Banning email wouldn’t end the many technological avenues and apps that parents have to access their students’ grades and progress. It would simply mean that small issues would remain just that … small. It would also allow for a greater means of protecting the time and energy of teachers. For example, schools could implement office hours, with several short sign-up slots allocated for phone calls. This would limit the length of conversations (and protect teachers from an hour-long tongue lashing). Issues requiring greater attention could be scheduled more specifically after an initial chat, allowing administrators to join in as support.
Can you imagine how much time a no-email policy would free up for teachers to … teach? It would also greatly reduce the emotional toll and burnout that educators face. Maybe I’m an idealist with visions of a utopian email-free land. Nonetheless, I think it’s time schools consider policies to protect the time and emotional energy of teachers. If we’ve learned one thing this past year, it’s that anything is possible!