My students communicate with me regularly. I am glad for this. It takes a variety of formats: many are still most comfortable coming to find me during the school day, but a lot of students appreciate the chance to use electronic communication. Students don’t generally e-mail me, but tend toward more public communication via Twitter, our class Facebook group or wall posts on Schoology. My favourite thing about this communication is how regularly a peer will help them out before I even get a chance to respond. Students will direct each other to course content, clarify instructions or remind each other of deadlines. A degree of collective self-reliance has been established. Information flows pretty freely. I hope most students find me pretty easy to approach as a result. I have found this semester that students seek me out face to face more than they ever did before, as well as asking questions out of school time. I like this, even when it is time consuming.
This concept of being available to students outside of class time is not always popular amongst teachers. It was suggested by a colleague this week that the kids are becoming too reliant on being able to ask me questions after class, therefore being shoddy about making sure they are paying attention the first time I explain things. I actually brought that critisism up with my classes and we talked about the idea of voluntary teacher activities and some of the dangers of assuming teachers will never withdraw their voluntary actions. (The conversation included coaching and work-to-rule situations.) This discussion became interesting because as a group we pondered the down-side for both parties involved. I was honest and human about the toll it can take on my family life: my toddler daughter used to close my laptop and say “No more computer Mommy!”, and I am often up way past a reasonable bedtime. The students talked about becoming more patient waiting for a response, and how they benefit when they don’t lose a whole weekend being confused about a project or task. They agreed to be more conscious of using me as a LAST resource and of actively trying to help each other out first. I was impressed with their genuine concern that they are becoming too much of a burden; there was no sense of entitlement from them.
Ulitmately it became an enlightening experience for us all. They know that I care about their success and want them to do well, but that they must take final ownership. The excuse “Well, you didn’t e-mail me back in time.” won’t fly in my classroom, and they understand that boundries will continue to exist. It is of benefit to me when a number of students are struggling on a weekend and I can give a public clarification that will solve all of the problems in one fell swoop. There is less individual panic and fewer repeated questions at the beginning of the next class period. I am also a night-hawk computer geek, so I understand those students who are working on a project at midnight when they run into a glitch. Keeping all of that in mind though, I also need to remember to impose limits on myself, and control how much and how often I am available. It is a negotiation and a balance. As always, transparency with the kids makes all the difference in the world.
I would love to hear your thoughts about out of class availablity– pros, cons and concerns.