VERY long story short; CHS has decided to implement a program whereby teachers can hold classes online. We submitted a proposal to the DOE outlining our plans for document-able indirectly direct instruction time, and we got approval for the idea. We launched the program this week, and are using the time to make up for some of the days we lost when there was no heat in the building last month.
Anyway, my online classes were held on Thursday night, and I spent most of Thursday burning lots of calories worrying about them. I’ve taught “hybrid” classes before, but they didn’t involve interactive online classes; I had no idea if I could pull this off.
I decided to plan lessons for both my levels that revolved around letter-writing. I’ve mentioned here before – more than once, in fact – that I’ve often been stunned into shocked silence by the utter lack of decorum and regard with which some students hold email communication. I suspect they’re thinking that email is inherently an informal method of communication and, as a consequence, they send me shockingly familiar, often rude emails, all (I can only hope) without realizing how incredibly badly they come off.
When I was teaching at the junior college level I wondered – often, and often out loud – why no one had ever taken these kids aside in high school and given them at least a rudimentary foundation in polite communication. Regardless of what a student wants to do in adulthood – doctor, chef, auto mechanic, hair stylist, engineer – he or she is going to need good, solid communication skills. Further, he or she is going to need to know how to discern what register should be taken when making that communication; knowing how to read the level of formality that a situation requires is a life skill, not just an academic one.
Now that I’M teaching in high school, I make sure that MY kids get taken aside and given a bit more than a rudimentary foundation in polite communication, I can tell you THAT!
Anyway, I put together quick lessons in register and basic letter writing for the online classes (which went well, I think), then spent Friday’s in-school, face to face classes reviewing what we went over on the computers. Most of the kids were pretty clear about what was going on; while they admit that they don’t have a whole lot of practice with switching register, they got the basic concept (“you don’t talk to your grandmother the same way you talk to your friends in the lunch room”) and were willing to play around with the idea a bit.
I took part of the class to go over some of the basics of email. I pointed out to the kids that most of our written correspondence comes in some electronic form, but that the means of communication shouldn’t keep students from considering what register should be used. An email to a friend can be super casual (“Hey! ‘Sup? You still coming by this afternoon?”), but an email to a person in authority – a teacher, a boss, a client – should be a bit more formal. Don’t fail to include an opening greeting – address your reader, I told them, it’s polite. Close your message with a closing salutation; write “sincerely,” or something similar, and don’t forget to sign your name (ugh! My Local U. students have email addresses that are randomly generated by a computer program; I can’t discern who an email is from by the address, so when they don’t sign their messages to me, I have NO idea who I’m talking to).
Just before we finished the lesson (I also went over the dangers of “reply all”), I mentioned one last thing; “it is probably a good idea,” I told them, “for some of you to register a more professional sounding email. You know if I’m talking to you, right?” Several students grinned shyly and nodded; they knew who they were.
Before Friday night was over, I had received two emails from students in my class. They had created new email addresses for themselves and had forwarded the information to all the teachers at CHS. One student (God, I love him) included this little message:
After a presentation today on “email manners” by Mrs. Chili, I decided to create an email that is more professorial than the one I had previously.
Most of my work is a practice in delayed gratification; students usually come to me long after a lesson is over to tell me that something I taught them is meaningful in their lives. It’s pretty cool when they get it right away.