Ashley Pearce is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading. Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading. He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.
For a teacher my age (early 30s), it’s hard to imagine a school functioning without the ability to email. But it did happen. Schools ran perfectly well for many many years without the constant contact (or distraction, depending on your view) of the email. Now I know you could say that about a lot of things; schools functioned without the internet but few would say that internet use at schools hasn’t enhanced how schools run. Have emails done the same? I have a few issues with the constant email contact culture in schools. Firstly it’s the merging of teaching with an office job. It isn’t. The more time spent in front of a screen is less time spent in front of eager young learners; this must be wrong. How often do you hear “Did you get my email?”. Err, well no actually. I was teaching a year 9 class. The disdain sometimes exuded when you haven’t had the chance to read an email between the hours of 9am-3pm is palpable. The bigger question is surely sometimes, why haven’t you been teaching, marking or preparing instead of emailing all day?
My email recently stopped working recently as I had over 1000 unread emails. Many would see this as ridiculous. I should be reading these. I take that point on board, but it also had absolutely no impact on those kids that come through my classroom door every day. Teachers are just people, and people have very poor filters on what they believe others care about. Just because something is important to you, doesn’t mean it is to others. If I start talking to almost literally anyone else on earth about the planning applications committee meeting I was in last night, aside from those in the room, eyes would glaze over. So I don’t. This is where the all staff email first comes up. If I were to put a figure on the sometimes near 100 emails that ping into my inbox some days, I’d say 5% were relevant to me (and maybe even fewer of interest). Below are some genuine examples of email titles/subjects from just the last few weeks:
- “Could you take a crate of glasses home and wash them, please?”. I was going to follow up with “and if anyone feels like doing a bit of laundry for me I’d appreciate it”.
- “Missing drama class”. I got the impression that a bunch of 12 year olds with white faces were wondering around the school undertaking interpretative mime.
- “WWF-£36 per animal”. I’m not sure why wrestlers are buying up any animals…..
- “Missing shoes”. With just the addition of a question mark this email heading could have been the start of an emotional Sports Direct advert.
- “Please can I remind everyone that has promised me cups, saucers, Mike jugs, sugar bowls, trays etc that I require them tomorrow”. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase being on a promise.
- “Lettuces for sale”. I don’t need to parody that one any further.
I think my point here is that people have actually forgotten how emails are meant to work. In the social media age people now use emails as if they’d use Facebook and they should be very different things. Emails should have a point, sounds obvious but go through your emails and see how many adhere to this. People should think before sending emails: Do all recipients need it? Is this the most appropriate communication method? And will it help solve the issue?
For schools I would recommend the following to help cut down on teachers workload where emails are concerned:
- Ban all staff emails. Unless really extreme circumstances, these really are not needed.
- Create alternative communication methods. Staff noticeboards (physical and electronic) can take the flak of most social events and the like that emails should be free of.