I don’t know when my home town school system started issuing e-mail accounts and web space to the staff, but by my junior year of high school, probably about half of my teachers had set up class websites.
They were all pre-formatted on a generic template. Clip art graphics at the top depended on the subject: the wobbly line drawn globe on the social studies pages; chalk and a slate for math classes; a test tube emitting glassy bubbles for Chemistry; maybe the globe again for Earth Science. The illustration options were limited.
On down, students might find course-related links, the attendance policy, the date of the first test of the year (or the previous year, in some cases). More than a few featured that stick figure construction worker and promises of “Coming Soon!” Zealous teachers added edifying quotations about hard work or knowledge, or the emblem of their favorite sports team, copied and pasted into pixelated distortion. And everybody threw their school district e-mail address up at the end of the scroll.
The point is that all of this was very experimental. Teachers dabbled in web presence the way most people tweak the e-mail font and signature settings on their first day at a new job. You mess with the text size and color. You pick out what will go at the end of composed messages and what will go at the end of replies and forwards. You either make it easy for others to figure out how to contact you by phone or you figure out how to make it nearly impossible. You might even scroll through those “stationary” styles, just to see what an e-mail would look like inside a circus tent. And then you’re like, “interesting idea, nice to have the option—not for me.”
Not surprisingly, a lot of public school teachers had a similar reaction to their new webmaster roles. “Interesting idea, nice to have the option—not for me.” Only they had already referred students to the website and it remained active, if orphaned.
One weekend, I sought out one of my AP teacher’s contact information via our class website and e-mailed her to ask a question about an assignment. I never heard a reply, so I improvised my way through and then approached her about it at our next class. Not only did she criticize the way I had opted to complete the project, she was also completely flustered, even offended, by the fact that I had sent her an e-mail about it.
It got around soon after that she had gone to someone in the administration and complained about having to use an e-mail address at all. It made her uncomfortable because it gave students too much access to her personal life or something. It was a violation of her privacy. I still wonder if anyone, before then or since, clarified the concept of e-mail to this otherwise fantastic teacher, or . . .
That incident was pretty much the best indicator I ever had that I was ready to graduate high school and go on to college where I could e-mail professors at all hours of the day and night.
But in the last six months, it’s become clear that what I was really ready for, all the way back in 2001, was my current job. What started with that errant e-mail to my teacher has ended with a steady stream of text messages between me and my boss.
I forgot my cell at my desk one evening during my first or second week. He heard it beeping or buzzing or something and sent me an e-mail so I wouldn’t worry over its whereabouts. I thought, “How nice of him!” and then, “Terrific. Now my employer knows that I can’t keep track of my personal items, and also, that my cell phone is pastel pink.”
He hasn’t held either against me, because my pink cell phone is filled with messages like: “Not feeling well. Can you go to launch?” “Did you see my sunglasses @ the booth?” “Put a cold compress on your forehead and feel better!” “Quick theater question. Check your email.” And “Halloween marshmallow peeps!!!”