There are emails about PTA meetings. There are emails about Halloween parties and reading celebrations. Fundraisers. Field trips. Instructions for parents who want to opt out of Common Core testing. There are addenda to earlier messages that misstated or omitted the location of an event or a phone number. Sometimes there are emails with the subject line “PRINCIPAL’S UPDATE,” no text in the body explaining anything, and a mystery PDF attached. Who knows what it is?
And I’m only on Monday.
I happen to have a job, a statistically normal number of friendships, and, oh yeah, the kids who are the reason for all these emails, so this oceanic volume is more than I could ever hope to keep up with. I would be stressed out by this if I felt the quality of the content merited it, if the information promised to enrich my children’s lives or strengthen our relationship with their teachers. But it doesn’t. On the whole, it feels obligatory and impersonal. It’s not thoughtfully composed. And it doesn’t speak to my kids’ passions or concerns.
When I was a kid my father had no idea what was going on in school, beyond what he saw in my report card.
Prolific emailing is just one aspect of a culture of frenzied sharing that now seems common in schools. There is this nagging insistence that we belong, a reflexive exaltation of The Community. It’s all very foreign to me. When I was a kid my father had no idea what was going on in school, beyond what he saw in my report card. He didn’t come to school for events or meetings with teachers. He wasn’t scheduling coffee dates with the other class parents. As far as I could tell, everyone was happy with the arrangement. I see no need to have deviated from it, but here we are.
I show up for school concerts and classroom celebrations. I attend parent-teacher conferences. When I do, I give myself a little pat on the back and savor, for a moment, my present-ness. But mostly what I feel is the strange disconnect between the funny, sensitive, somewhat weird, and occasionally maddening girls I know as my daughters and the flat, featureless reports I get from the adults they’re spending every weekday with.
Quantity of communication has not brought quality of interaction. For all the correspondence and the contact, our teachers and administrators don’t seem to know our kids any better. (Simple questions like “Whom does my daughter gravitate toward in class?” and “Whom does she clash with?” receive scripted non-responses necessitated by privacy regulations.)
Or perhaps, in part, it’s because of all the correspondence and contact that schools aren’t able to build better relationships with students. Given the absurdly large class sizes, standardized-test prep, and mass-shooter lockdown drills that are now permanent parts of the job description, it’s a wonder teachers have any time for close observation or one-on-one attention after they produce the Joyce Carol Oatesian reams of email they’re obliged to bang out each week.
School—public school, anyway—has become all about checking boxes. So in that spirit, I’ve decided to check a box, as well. The one that marks all of these emails as spam.