Giving Out Your Phone Number to Students

HarrisA question came up recently from a teacher asking if other broadcast journalism and television production teachers gave their kids their personal phone numbers. A follow-up question wondered if giving out your phone number made you a target for crank phone calls from students.

I have to admit that my first year of teaching I received some crank phone calls from one student.   I had no idea who the student was.  I notified the telephone company and they asked me to keep a call log and when I had 5 calls from the student to call them back and they would take care of the issue.  I suppose they needed the dates and times to trace the call.  They told me they were not allowed to tell me who was calling but they would contact the owner of the phone number to explain that the calls would stop or the phone service would be terminated.  This was in 1973.  The crank calls stopped.  Interestingly, after that one instance of a student making crank calls, it never happened again during my 34 year career.

We are in the business of communication.  We teach communications skills.  It seems counter-productive to keep ourselves out of communication with the students we are teaching to communicate.

In this modern era, Caller ID will take care of crank calls.  I gave out my number for 34 years to all my production students.  I explained that students were free to call me anytime if they needed advice or help with an issue that could not wait until the next time they saw me at school.  I specifically mentioned that something going wrong with a shoot with gear or personnel was an example of an “issue” that couldn’t wait.  The phone numbers were not to be used to “chat” with me and I told the kids I had caller ID and wouldn’t hesitate to contact authorities if my number was abused.  

Far worse than a crank call in my mind would be a complicated shoot that crashed because a student needed help with a menu item on a camera and I wasn’t available to answer the question.  To further protect myself,  at the beginning of the year I asked the students to obtain permission from their parents to publish the student’s phone and cell numbers  to other members of my classes.  I then created a wallet card in a small font with the name of every student in all my classes along with their home and cell phone numbers.  My numbers were on the card as well.  All of my second year advanced students names and numbers were in bold print so they would stand out to the first years.  These advanced students became the first line of defense.

With this phone card, a student having equipment issues or who forgot a cable or had a crew member not show up for a shoot, had 50+ people to call for help.  All the second year students were sent home with extra cables of every type at the beginning of the school year so I had spare cables spread all over the county.  (My program was a magnet-type program and drew students from 23 different high schools in the county.) 

Bottom line: at any time there was a network of many students within usually a 15 minute drive from any location in the county who were capable of springing into action and run “emergency help” to production teams in need.  This network was so efficient that I rarely received calls at home or on my cell phone.  The students learned to take care of all but the most difficult problems on their own – and isn’t that the purpose of what we’re supposed to be doing?  Unless it was a dire emergency I asked students to call a second year student with problems before they called me.  The second years actually enjoyed being “EMT’s.” 

A huge side benefit was that this network was frequently activated (after all doesn’t Murphy visit nearly every production?) and it caused all my students in all my classes to become one big family.  Some students who remained in the area after graduation would volunteer to be on “the list” as available help as post-grads!

Not be a communicator in a communications class?  Are you kidding?