The Power of Positive Phone Calls

The following log was required for my Classroom Management course.  The essential rule for these calls was that they must be positive and only positive. There were no “yes, buts” allowed. The conversation was allowed to be long or short [we were advised to have an exit strategy for calls that drag on], but it needed to be 100% positive. If the parent/guardian wanted to extend the topic to less than positive things, we were advised to set a time for another conference or call.  Only pseudonyms are used in all of my blog posts.

Log #4:  Positive Phone Call Home

Miguel, 9th grade, Algebra 1

As a 9th grader, Miguel is one of the younger students in my primary placement: Algebra 1, which includes freshman all the way through seniors, the majority of whom are juniors.  Miguel missed over two weeks of classes earlier this marking period due to a trip to Mexico; I am not sure why he had to make the trip.  Since returning about two weeks ago, his participation, note taking, homework completion, and quiz / test scores have improved greatly[1], in spite of the missed time.  I wanted to commend Miguel for his behavior, which I did in person when I told him on Friday that I was going to contact his parents later in the day.  My CT overheard and chimed in with compliments of her own for Miguel.  He beamed with pride over our comments, and listened intently when I discussed the protocol I was going to follow since his parents only spoke Spanish.  I planned to call his home later that day with my wife present since she is a native Spanish speaker; I let Manuel know that if my wife was not available I would need him to translate for me, however, I was going to mention how great he was doing since he returned from Mexico.

The specific points I wanted to make about Miguel included:

  • He adjusted quickly to being back in class
  • His math skills were improving
  • He paid attention in class
  • He was working well in class

The Call:

Miguel was near his mom when I called, which was fortunate since their sole phone is a cell phone.  His mom quickly handed the phone off to Miguel after I introduced myself, and had asked if Miguel was around.  Fortunately, it was Miguel Jr. that spoke next, and not Miguel Sr., or I would have had to introduce myself once more and ask for Miguel Jr.  Miguel sounded very excited that it was me, which made me smile and feel good myself.  I re-explained that I was going to have my wife speak with his mom about his recent achievements in class.  He understood, and both of us handed the phones off, he to his mom, me to my wife.  My wife followed the script I wrote for her, translating my praises of Miguel for his mom to hear.  Miguel’s mom received it well, and only asked one question: “Is Miguel behaving in class?”  I understood enough Spanish from what my wife said to offer up “yes, he is a great student” which my wife quickly relayed to Miguel’s Mom.  The call ended with typical cordialities, and my first positive phone call was in the books, i.e., in this log, to be specific.

While it was convenient that my wife could translate for me, I knew things would be fine even if she were not around since I coordinated with Miguel and he was the backup translator.  I do wish I were fluent, or more conversant in Spanish, so I could communicate directly with Miguel’s mom; that is something for my professional development once I graduate.  If I had more time, I could have arranged for a face-to-face meeting with Miguel and his parents, although it was not feasible, realistically, for this assignment.  Also, I could have had a personal note translated for Miguel to give his parents.  In spite of the language barrier, the benefit of the positive call home was delivered, so it was a smashing success as far as I am concerned.

Tomas, 11th grade, Algebra 1

Tomas is failing every class except for Algebra 1; he has a C- now[2].  Tomas has missed multiple classes at the outset of the year due to a lingering sinus infection, which increased the challenge for him keeping up in class.  Even though he often forgets his notebook, he has brought it more often in the past month, which has helped him greatly this six-week marking period.  Tomas has also participated much more in class than the first marking period; I believe this is due to changing the class seating assignment.  He still fails to turn in homework, which is a work-in-process.

Tomas has lived, and continues to live, a challenging life, which I learned a bit about since he initially served as my focal student for my Adolescent Development and Learning case study; he decided to back out after our first meeting since discussing his past was too traumatic for him.  I learned that his past life was extremely upsetting for him, since his mom abandoned all four of her children, to include Tomas, who is the eldest; she is a crack addict and lost custody of her children soon afterwards.  His present life is challenging since his uncle resents having to care for him, as Tomas explains; his aunt does care for him, which provides Tomas some solace.

After spending time learning more about him, he and I have been on good terms.  I check on him often in class to make sure he understands the material, is taking notes, and minimally acts out, which I believe he does to help release some of the emotional energy pent-up in him from his past and present life circumstances.  When I am in front of the class, and Tomas makes some statement, which is even remotely related, or relatable, to math, I make sure he gets a chance to take part in the class discussion to give him an opportunity to bleed off some of his pent-up frustration, emotion, or whatever else might ail him; it seems to work and causes further improvement in his behavior and performance.

This past Friday, both my CT and I informed Tomas about my intent to call his aunt for a positive phone call home.  He was fine with it, smiling at me as is normal when he is with me now, and let me know she spoke English, so I could contact his house without needing a translator, or my wife to be present.  My first several attempts to contact his aunt were unsuccessful.  The first time, no one answered the home number and no answering machine picked up.  For the second attempt, I left a message on his aunt’s cell phone.  The third call two hours later, again home, went unanswered.  Repeated calls over the weekend to both home and phone went unanswered, although I left two more messages on his aunt’s cell phone’s voicemail.  I did not want to leave any more so as not to be perceived as bothering them.

The Call:

Finally, earlier tonight, at 6:45pm, while driving home from my C&I course, after several rings, I reached his aunt, at home, on her cell phone.  I introduced the purpose for my call and myself.  Since I had left a few voice mail messages with her, she seemed to recognize my voice and who I was before I finished my introductions.

Afterwards, I let her know that I felt that:

  • Tomas had a great attitude in class,
  • He was very helpful when called upon,
  • He tried very hard, and
  • That he was improving his math skills.

She mentioned that she just finished speaking with Tomas about his schoolwork.  She went on to say that “he had better start doing better soon, since he was going to be a senior next year” and something like “he won’t be able to stay with them forever,” although what she said was hard to hear and I did not want to ask her to repeat what I thought I heard her say.  She went on to mention that Tomas had told her he had a paper due Friday, which I was not sure exactly what she was talking about, but said that he had a final tomorrow in Algebra 1 and that he should study for it.  She said she would mention it to him, thanked me for calling, then as she was hanging up the phone I could hear Tomas ask her who it was, to which she replied “Mr. Math Teacher” then the line went dead.

As with Miguel, I could have sent a written note home with Tomas, or attempted to schedule a face-to-face meeting.  However, with the challenge of simply connecting “live” on the phone, I am not very hopeful that a meeting was possible.

[1] After writing the paragraph above, I scored the latest quiz for the class and Miguel’s score was nowhere near what I expected.  We reviewed material today as a class and he seemed confident he understood it better; there is an end of marking period exam tomorrow so I hope so for his sake.

[2] As with Miguel, Tomas’ grade dropped after the last quiz.  He now has a D+.  It is possible he can improve it to a solid C if he does well on the end of marking period exam tomorrow.

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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One Response to The Power of Positive Phone Calls

  1. rich says:

    A touching story. You’re a good man for trying to help these kids.


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