Teachers who want to be available to students after school hours face a conundrum. On one hand, the best way to communicate these days is via text messages, which are even more efficient than emails. On the other hand, most teachers are understandably loathe to share their personal cell phone numbers with students, and also to pay for the messaging fees their phone companies will charge for all those text messages. Luckily, some innovative services are revolutionizing teacher-student communication, making it faster and more private than ever before.
Teachers who have Google accounts may be interested in setting up a Google Voice account, which can be used to stay in close contact with students while maintaining an all-important layer of privacy. The service will assign teachers a new phone number, which they can link to their current cell phone if they choose. When a student sends a text message to the number, the teacher will see the message on his/her private phone (or computer, if the teacher prefers) without the student being able to access the teacher’s personal number. Replies sent via phone to the student’s number will show the Google Voice number, not the teacher’s private phone number. Teachers can also choose to use their computers to sign in to their Google accounts and reply to text messages via the computer; their students will receive teacher responses as text messages on their cell phones. Texts replies to students, whether sent by phone or by computer, are free. And if, at the end of the school year, the teacher chooses to unplug from school responsibilities for a while, s/he can change the Google Voice settings so that student messages will not be accepted.
Another intriguing service is Remind 101. Each group a teacher sets up (Debate Team, First Period, Parents, etc.) will be assigned a unique code. Students who wish to sign up for teacher texts simply text that code to Remind 101 and they’ll automatically be added to the list of phone numbers for that group. When the teacher sends out a message, such as reminding kids that there’s a test on Tuesday or modifying a homework assignment, the students, or their parents, will receive the information as a text message. A teacher can even set a schedule so that messages to go out at a predetermined time, so a teacher can leave work for the day with the assurance that the message will be received during prime homework hours. Students are identified on teacher contact lists only by name, not by phone number, and the teacher’s phone number is not shared either. It’s easy to opt out of the messages, and students or parents can receive the messages as emails instead of texts if they choose, to avoid messaging fees. Currently, Remind 101 is in beta and so is a free service for teachers, too. While it doesn't allow for the kind of back-and-forth that Google Voice makes possible, Remind 101 is a great way to communicate with whole classes or groups of parents at once.
Services like Google Voice and Remind 101 break new ground. And teachers may find themselves breaking new ground, too, as they encourage their students to check their text messages instead of to put away their phones!