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Is it OK for high school teachers to text students directly?

20110305-220630-pic-55603229favicon We all know that the best way to communicate with students is by texting them. After all, teenagers don’t email, and they’re definitely not going to answer the phone or go on the computer to check a teacher’s class website.

But is there a line? When does texting become too much or too close?

This year, I’ve heard a mild backlash from some parents, who say that teachers have become too lax with their texting habits. One Oakland parent told me, “I just don’t think it’s proper for my daughter to get so many texts from her male teacher. They’re non-stop.”

Last year, I was a huge proponent of texting. For example, my students texted me their homework. I reminded them of their assignments. I cheerleaded and cajoled.

And now, I must say, I’m having second thoughts. Here is my current thinking:

1. Texting should be infrequent and for important reasons.
Too many texts can make the teacher come across as a creeper or as too much of a friend. It might be confusing to students. Texts for informational purposes only (e.g., reminders to turn in field trip forms) do not encourage students to be accountable. The best texts, I think, are for individual students to send a message of care or concern or congratulation.

2. Parents need to know and sign off on the communication.
My advisees’ parents always appreciated my texts and thanked me for my involvement in their child’s life. But that’s because they knew me, trusted me, and understood how I worked. An essential step for teachers is to make clear in your syllabus your methods of communication.

What do you think? How about participating in the first-ever Iserotope poll? (Beware: This fancy poll syncs up with Facebook and Twitter, but you can also vote anonymously.)

[socialpoll id=”6982″]

Let’s see how this poll turns out. Also, share your thoughts in the comments. What should teachers know and think about when texting their students? favicon

4 comments

  1. Teresa

    My students and I do text, but, like you said, it is infrequent and only when important. I also open up that line of communication to any of my parents as well. But, its actually not the students that I have in my regular classes that communicate with me through text messages but rather it is the students and parents of my Speech and Debate team. I administrate and coach a team of 60+ students, which also ultimately includes their parents. I take them on a field trip every Saturday from October-March, and we often stay in a hotel or go out of town by plane. In this way, I use texts to connect with students and parents mostly to ask and answer quick questions, such as when the bus is leaving, or reminding them of practices. I don’t communicate on a large scale through texts: it doesn’t make sense with the way the medium works. I don’t want 35 (or 120) sms replies just saying “okay” when I send out information.

    I have used text messages in my classroom before, such as Poll Anywhere, or asking them to collect information from people they can connect with via text to gather data, but I honestly would much rather they put homework in a dropbox or send me an e-mail to ask questions: I think the text message size limit isn’t conducive to educational conversations.

    But, just as you said, a lot of the specifics of how and why and when text messaging will work and is appropriate are something that can only be determined by considering your unique situation.

  2. Lisa

    I respond to texts until 9 p.m., when my phone is turned off. I do not initiate texts. I am available to answer questions. When I want to socialize, I text a friend.

  3. Mark Isero

    Teresa and Lisa, thank you for your thoughts. I tend to agree with you about the general policy of not initiating communication via text with a student.

    But here’s a scenario: You have a big essay due tomorrow. A struggling student has been seeking help from you over the past week, but he was absent today, and so you’re worried that he’ll forget to turn in the essay. Do you send him a text to remind him?

    What are your thoughts?

  4. Bonnie

    I say if the teacher is fine with it and same with the student then it’s, cool and if the teacher is more like a friend like the thing said, what is the big deal? Students and teachers can be friends, so what, and if the teacher helps the student get the help he or she needs for the student’s well-being and is concerned about what the student is feeling, that’s good. Like me, my biology teacher noticed me writing suicide and scribbling it out over and over again, so she took me to my guidance counselor and ever since then, me and her have been close, and we now have a really close bond. So yeah, teachers should be able to if they want to.

Please share your brilliant insights!