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Teachers Say Phones in Class a Big Help

July 6, 1995

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Martha Hollman keeps hearing she should reach out to her students’ parents more. A phone in her classroom would make that a lot easier, she says.

``It’s crazy the way people talk about getting the information superhighway into the schools, and we don’t even have phones,″ said the physical education teacher at Geyer Middle School in Ft. Wayne, Ind.

``I can’t call these kids’ parents if there’s a problem. I can’t call if there’s something good going on.″

And, most importantly, Hollman worries, she is hamstrung if there’s an emergency.

It’s a problem that is getting more attention nationwide. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment noted in an April report that just one in eight teachers has a telephone in class. Education Secretary Richard Riley has called phones ``the first tool for teachers to have.″

And for the 9,000 teachers meeting here at the National Education Association convention, it’s a subject of much frustration.

``We’re kind of stuck in the Ice Age,″ said Andrea Perez, a friend of Hollman’s who teaches French, Spanish and Japanese at Memorial Park Middle School in Ft. Wayne.

Perez long ago started bringing her own cellular phone to class.

``At least that way, I know it’s there, the kids know it’s there,″ she said. ``If they forget something and want to call home to get it, if they have a crisis going on at home and they need to talk to their parents _ we use it.″

She has called to inform a parent that homework wasn’t done, and to allow a child to tell a parent good news about a test.

Hollman still sends notes home, or tries to reach a parent from her home at night.

Her school has three phone lines. One is used as a computer hookup in the library. The second is the principal’s. The third is often used by office staff to call absent students’ at home, or for other school business.

``I can try to run down there after school and find a line,″ Hollman said. ``But they’re usually all tied up.″

Only 1 percent of teachers have access to voice mail _ a time saver many Americans use in their business lives, the Office of Technology Assessment also found.

Two years ago, Annabella Lastowski, a sixth-grade social studies teacher in Swiftwater, Pa., got an outside phone and voice mail system she shares with four teachers. They’ve dubbed it the ``homework hotline.″

Parents can call in each night and listen to a message describing their child’s homework for that night.

Parents of ill children, or the children themselves, can call to find what was missed in school, and what can be studied at home.

``The parents love it,″ Lastowski said. ``I think it makes them feel they have more control. It makes them feel connected to what the child is doing.″

Administrators often agree they would like teachers to have phones. But phones are expensive, they note.

Some education groups are trying to persuade Congress to change regulations so schools can qualify for lower phone rates.

Administrators also worry that students may make long-distance calls, or that ringing phones will interrupt class.

But Perez says phones can be programmed without long-distance access, and to flash rather than ring.

``The teacher can control it,″ she said. ``You can prevent it from being abused. I mean, in my opinion, the good really outweighs the bad.″

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