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I am often intrigued by the controversy surrounding the contraction, “ain’t” which, to the best of my knowledge, has been created by the American education system. Contractions are an informal form of the English Language and should not be used when formal language is required. We generally speak informally, but when it comes to writing, we employ the formal language. That being said, the acceptable contraction for “am not” is “ain’t”, therefore it can only be correctly used with the pronoun “I” as in I ain’t going to do that!” The problem occurred when people tried using it with other nouns or pronouns. “We ain’t going!” would then mean “We am not going!” “Jim ain’t here” would be Jim am not here, hence the misuses grew. The solution was easy. Rather than teach to correct use of that contraction, teachers banned its use altogether and made every attempt to have it stricken from every lexicon in the English speaking world. Even as I write this post, the application, Microsoft Word is red-marking this paragraph like there will be no tomorrow. Of course I will need to ignore the rule, since it has now been established as a rule. The banning of this word from our language is so engrained in the minds of Americans that I will probably get comments from readers taking issue with this entire paragraph. Of course that works to underscore the success of the “Ban the word ‘AIN’T’ Campaign”.

Now that the stage has been set, let me get on to where I want to take you on this journey. This week I took my student teacher group to listen to a guest speaker. The speaker was a personnel director from a local school district who was discussing the ins and outs of securing a teaching position in today’s job market. After we got past the usual things about resume’s and panel interviews, the speaker delved into what she thought first year teachers should do to protect themselves as new teachers. When she told the group that they should not email anything to parents for their first three years of teaching, all of my students turned their heads to see if mine blew off my head. Some of my colleagues nodded and voiced their agreement. I said nothing out of respect for the speaker, but later told my kids that I totally disagreed with that strategy.

Our world is rapidly changing. I will not debate whether it is for the better or worse, but I will clearly agree that we are a culture that is connecting in many ways beyond the age old face-to-face method employed for thousands of years. We talk, phone, email, text, tweet, Skype, post, and sometimes write letters in order to communicate. If involving parents in the education of their children is a goal for educators, we need to employ whatever form of communication that parents use to accomplish that. We can’t demand that parents conform to our limiting choices that are convenient for us. Email and texting are becoming the methods of choice for communication in our world today.

I fully understand the reasoning behind telling teachers to avoid emailing or texting parents. There are times when these things can be used against a well-intentioned teacher. Teachers live in a fishbowl and are held to a higher standard. They are also targets for people who need to place blame on anyone rather than accept personal responsibility. These are the hazards of our profession and they seem to be being amplified in a society which is growing more dependent on what social media and technology have to offer. The solution to the problem, however, does not lie in banning its use. As teachers, we should always rely on education as our first answer. Learning how to do something correctly is always a better alternative to not doing it at all.

Rather than condemning the use of tools that our society is embracing, we need to teach the correct way to use them. It is true that the written word can be used against a teacher, but any words written or spoken can be turned. Look at our political system where that happens every day.  We need to teach teachers to consider their words and communicate clearly no matter what form of communication they use. It is not the tool that makes teachers look bad; it is what they say that does that. A parent who is informed about his or her child’s progress and shortcomings has a fighting chance to affect change in their child’s education. The sooner they have that information the quicker things can happen. Of course if the parent has been informed and chooses not to act that is not the fault of the teacher. If email or texting is the preferred method for the parent to get this information then why are we trying to fight that?

We need to streamline the communication for quick results. For years teachers complained that they had no phones in the classroom to communicate with parents. In its day the phone was the technology tool for communication. Today, many, many classrooms have phones for accessing parents. The technology however, has developed forms of communication beyond the phone as we once knew it. For that reason most schools provide email accounts for teachers. What schools now need to do is teach the teachers how to best use that tool. Schools need to teach what to say and how to say it for best results, because this stuff is not intuitive. As I often say, we no longer have a choice about technology. It is what we use in our everyday lives. It does not matter that we can remember when we did not have it. We do not move backwards in time. We need to teach people how to move forward, because no one has been there yet.

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Comment by Tobey Unrath on December 31, 2011 at 8:03pm

I agree that e-mailing is a great way of quick communication with parents.  It's not a bad idea for new teachers to have their e-mail screened by a friendly colleague before sending due to improper spelling or inappropriate tone.  All of us have been surprised by the way an e-mail has been read by others that we have sent.

There's a great poem (Hastings 1990) that says:

Don't say 'ain't'.
Your mother will faint.
Your father will fall
In a bucket of paint.
Your sister will cry.
Your brother will sigh.
The cat and dog will say good-bye.



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