Friday, November 21 – Hello, Operator

Does anyone remember what a telephone is? I mean a real telephone, the kind with the spiral cord? Well if you're over the age of 10 you probably do, but I'm beginning to wonder about those who are under 10.

When my children were younger we used to worry that they would never learn math because of calculators, or that they wouldn't know how to tie their shoes because of Velcro, and telling time would be difficult unless it was a digital clock. I have to honestly say that the telephone is headed in that direction.

In our office at school we have phones on our desks (behind counters) which have a multitude of buttons and lights and that all-familiar spiral phone cord which keeps us chained, um, I mean close to our desk. We also have a phone attached to our copy machine which doubles as our fax. This phone is your traditional beige push-button phone. It sits on a counter across the room.

When students need to call home for something, their teacher will send them to the office to use this phone. They are not allowed to use the teachers' phone or their own cell phones, if they have them, and believe me, more of them have them than have not these days, and no child is putting their little paws or breathing on my phone. So, when that book report or sneakers are forgotten, when "their mom doesn't know they have afterschool choir practice" (even though we assure them that mom signed the permission slip), or when they've dumped their lunch on themselves, they come to use that phone.

Now there are some rules about using that phone. The music teacher does not allow her students to call home for forgotten instruments. They are not allowed to call home about play dates. You must leave a message on the answering machine and not just hang up due in part to caller ID at home and parents panicking when they see that the school has called and no one left a message. And, if there are any changes in how they are getting home, one of us in the office must actually speak to the parent (which means touching the phone that the grubby hands and breathing…… I think you will get the picture.)

But what I have found quite interesting is the number of students who come up to use the phone and have no idea how to. Come on now! It used to be that you didn't get out of Kindergarten unless you knew your phone number and how to dial it! If the phone is not portable or a cell phone they don't get it.

I have had students come up to use the phone and tell them that it's over there on the counter and they have no idea what I am talking about. It's not in a cradle, it's not cordless, and it certainly cannot fit into your pocket.

Better yet are the ones who do pick up the receiver and put the mouthpiece to their ear and the earpiece to their mouth with the cord draped over the top of their head. Yes, it's true and it's happened more than once.

Then they have to make the call. It would surprise you to know how many children do not even know their telephone number. I'm talking about children in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. Part of that is owed to the fact that mom and dad each have a cell phone, they themselves have a cell phone, and some households do not have land lines anymore. (Which always makes me wonder what those people do when there is an emergency in their home – but that's for another time and another place.) And then there's speed dialing when grandma is #2, Dad's work number is #3, etc.

So I will look up the phone number in our school emergency directory and hand it to them on a post-it. If they say that they know it I will ask them to tell me first. You do not have to dial the area code of the area you are in, and they don't know this, which is why I ask them to tell me the number – so I can tell them not to use the area code.

Yesterday a third grader came up to use the phone. She had forgotten her parent pick-up note and wanted to call mom. I asked her if she knew mom's number.


"Tell me what it is."


"Okay, good. The phone is over there. (OMG she doesn't see it) Over there on the counter (she still doesn't see it) The beige thing with the buttons (okay, good, she found it…….why is she staring at it) Pick up the receiver (OMG she doesn't know what that is) The thing with the cord on it (she picks up the whole phone) The thing on top with the curly cord (okay good, she picks it up...... why is she staring at it again) You have to press the buttons to make the call, remember your number (she presses 9085555555… geez, the damn area code, the phone starts making that screechy noise with the message I can hear across the room IF YOU'D LIKE TO MAKE A CALL PLEASE HANG UP THE PHONE AND DIAL AGAIN) Sweetie what is your number?"


"Okay, that's all you have to dial, hang up the phone and try again (why is she staring at me) You have to hang up the phone to try again (OMG she's crying now) Don't cry, just put the thing in your hand down where you found it and then pick it up and try again (She's staring and crying now) Honey, just start from the beginning and push the buttons like you did before without the 908 and remember to leave a message if the answering machine comes on)."

At which point my phone rings. When I pick my head up she's headed for the door.

"Did you talk to mom."

"Yes, I told her that I forgot my note."

"Is she going to bring one in for you?"

"No, she's going to e-mail my teacher." (Which is only good if the teacher is actually in school that day and can read their e-mail, but I'll have the teacher remind the parent of that.)

And she runs out of the room. Seconds later I hear that screech again……..IF YOU'D LIKE TO MAKE A CALL……….look over at the phone and the receiver is laying up and down on the face of the phone, nowhere near the cradle.

But at least her shoe laces were tied.


Queen Bee said...

I love this! This reminds me of when I was little and my grandmother used to always tell my mom how important it was that I knew my phone number with the area code before I started school...just in case I got kidnapped far away and escaped to a pay phone...although that was before cell phones so I was in good shape. Haha

Heinous said... may need illustrations. That old tech is hard on thinking.

IB said...

Great post. My son is 16 this year and until 2 years ago, I'm pretty sure he couldn't tie his own shoes. And I know he was 12 before he could tell time with anything other than a digital clock. A couple of months ago we were in an antique store when I picked up an old phone )rotary dial, curly cord, the works)and I showed it to him an explained how the dial worked. He was shocked. He was speechless at how long it took to dial a number. And the fact there was no speed-dial; mind numbing. I then tried to explain to him the concept of a "party-line" (yes, I'm that old) and he burst out laughing.