On the evening of Friday, March 13th, I got the call I knew was coming: school would be canceled for the following week. The week had already started as a low-key Spring Break week for my family. Then, with each passing day, plans, practices, and games got canceled. By Friday the 13th, I grasped the magnitude of the coming events.
As a teacher in a rural, agricultural area, the majority of my students have a lower socioeconomic status. However, our district has never penny-pinched when it came to technology, thanks in large part to some grants provided by Chevron. Though my high school students are each afforded a Chromebook to use at school and at home, not all have access to the internet at home. Even those who have data on their phones don’t always have a strong signal from their providers when they are not “in town.” And most do not live “in town.” I don’t live “in town.” And the internet is a luxury for our families. It is expensive. And frankly, while the rest of the world seems to believe that everyone can just “log on,” teachers here never make the assumption that there is access outside of our school’s campus. While my students and I share a reminder app where I can connect to them, it won’t allow me to send videos, I can only attach 1 picture at a time, and it has a character-number restriction that is very limiting.
So when that call came on Friday, I knew that “Distance Learning” for my students wouldn’t look exactly like it appeared on my social media feeds, where educators were touting this app and that platform. Saturday morning, I searched my iPhone’s App Store for “free texting app.” There were several. But one stood head and shoulders above the rest: TextNow offered me all the calling and texting capabilities of my own phone, let me choose my own number (for privacy), had the most downloads and the most positive reviews. I immediately loaded it and took off.
Of my 142 students, 78 responded, either through the text-reminder app (if they had loaded my code at the beginning of the year–only 93 did) or through digital methods during the first week. Now, they were not necessarily staying at home during that week; and, I am certain that of the 86, several were using their devices at restaurants that offer free WiFi. But that left 56 students unreached. While some would say, “Don’t worry. You got the majority of them,” I did not want for those unreached to not have access to me or to my material. So I called them. Some answered. I texted them. Some more responded. I added that number to all my contact sheets, and they have reached out to me with their questions, sent me pictures of them and their assignments, and let me respond–through TextNow–without a character limit, or photo limit, or a set number of texts.
About halfway through the first week, internet load-times were at a turtle’s pace. Kids who had home internet were trying to contact me to tell me that nothing was working for them anymore. I gave them my TextNow number, and … problem solved. When the rest of the world seemed to think that more technology was going to solve our problems, I found that less–for my students–really was more.
I recently participated in a Twitter chat where a question was posed: “What percentage of your students are completing the work you assign?” When I answered that I would estimate it at 75%, at least, several peers commented that their own numbers were not as high. Our district has allowed students to come pick up hard copy packets of work, set up a website for distributing work, and our teachers are very tech-savvy in their everyday teaching. So why the difference in percentages? Here is the secret: TextNow. That’s it. I took the time to individualize instruction based on students’ needs, and it has paid off. To date, I am still trying to make contact with 3 students. Three. Of 142. Now, 2 of those I happen to know are just fine, but they aren’t trying to get their teacher’s assignments right now. The last one, I do worry about. And I continue to make an effort to contact her.
TextNow’s Twitter profile says, “Communication belongs to everyone.” I am so grateful for that kind of thinking. I am so grateful that there is a free app that has allowed me to keep my personal phone number private, and still connect to my students with no restrictions. And I’ve decided to just keep TextNow indefinitely. I can give it out at the beginning of the year next year, along with all the other contact info. I don’t really know why I didn’t do that before, honestly; except that “before,” I took for granted that I would get to see my kids the next day. So, thank you TextNow. I am grateful.
Download TextNow today to stay connected for free. Because communication truly does belong to everyone.