“Yeah, But Why?”

That is an exact question I received today from a teacher while conducting a training on student e-mail.  In the middle of me showing the teachers how students can send e-mails, how the filtering system works to root out inappropriate usage, and how to suspend students from access in the event they are appropriate.

When the hand went up, I immediately realized my mistake: I started with the “how,” and not the “why.”  All that aside, I was shocked that someone in the year 2009 would actually ask why our students would need access to e-mail.  I started with the basics: your students now have another avenue of communication with you.  Those questions that you always tell them you don’t have time to answer, you now can.  Those little problems that mean a lot to the kids, they can now get help with through e-mailing you.

why© S. Harris

I told them that when my students go off-track (we go to school year round, and take 1 month off every 3 months), I give them homework.  But, instead of giving them a packet on the last day, I dole it out in doses on Fridays via e-mails, and the due date is the following week, back to me via e-mail.  Only 3 of my students had Internet at home; but, all of them returned the assignments, and on time.  Why?  Because their parents took them to the library, or the school, or even K-Mart and the YMCA to get them that access.

Students have used e-mail to simply ask me over the weekend, “What are you doing today?”  I get messages asking me, “How is your son doing in baseball?”  They’ve even sent me e-mails that said, “Mr. Robertson, my dad went back to Mexico to give money to my family.  Sometimes my mom worries that he won’t be able to come back.”

And then, I started to expand.  I shared with them a story of 2 of my students, notoriously best friends, who got into an argument at lunch one day.  Both girls always sit next to each other, and when one got up to go to the bathroom, the other didn’t save her seat.  Someone sat down in one of the girls’ seats, and when that girl returned, she was furious.  Instead of yelling and arguing (as is the inclination in our students), she said, “You will be getting an e-mail from me today.”

Sure enough, her friend did get that e-mail, and it was strongly worded.  It was also descriptive, grammatically correct, acurately punctuated, and contained a Main Idea and Supporting Details.  That is the why.

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