Press 4 if You Want to Explode

Martin HanscampNewsletter Reflections for Christian Schools, The CACE Roundtable1 Comment

Press 4 if you want to explode

This post is part of a series collected from the writings of Martin Hanscamp, a friend and partner in Christian education. Martin faithfully served Christian Schools and Christian Education National (CEN) in Australia, but passed away last year. Michelle Dempsey, CEN’s CEO, set the stage for this series in her introductory post. In her words “If we are going to honor Martin’s legacy, we will need to put Jesus front and center in our lives, our work, and our play.” Enjoy some of CACE’s favorite writings from Martin.


I received this message during the past week – as a suggested audio for a school’s answer phone system.

You have reached the automated answering service of your school. In order to connect you to the correct staff member please listen to all the options before making a selection.

  • To lie about why your child is absent, press 1.
  • To make excuses for why your child did not do his homework, press 2.
  • To complain about what we do, press 3.
  • To swear at staff members, press 4.
  • To ask why you didn’t get information that has already been included in your newsletter and several flyers that we mailed to you, press 5.
  • If you want to reach out and touch, hit or slap someone, press 6.
  • To complain about bus transportation, press 7.
  • To complain about school lunches, press 8.
  • To request another teacher for the 3rd time this year, press 9.
  • If you want us to raise your child, press 0.

If you realize this is the real world and your child must be accountable and responsible for his or her own behavior, class work and homework and that it’s not the teacher’s fault for your child’s lack of effort, hang up and have a nice day. Beep.

What do you think? Should we install it?

Apparently it’s been written by a somewhat cynical and jaded teacher who suspends belief when it comes to listening to parent excuses. Two key thoughts came to mind when I hear this recording.

Firstly, a few comments on the interplay between communication and relationship… when I explain partnership to parents inquiring about enrollment, I use three basic terms: attitude, relationship and communication. IF parents and teachers have an attitude of partnership, they are both approaching the relationship with a view of fulfilling their responsibilities and empowering the other party. A healthy relationship is a ‘two-way’ street. A basic feature of this is good communication.

I hope that… the listener knows your name; where you feel you are heard; where you have confidence that the response is meeting your need/concern.

In any ‘tango’ there will be issues. Kids get sick; homework doesn’t’ get done; bullying occurs; information gets stuck under the banana in the bag; information gets confused or doesn’t land in the right hands and so on. How do we handle that? Do we do it through a healthy respect for each other, a commitment to building relationship and by talking it through? or do we hit buttons 0-9?

My second reaction to the telephone push buttons is an admission that I thoroughly dislike automated answering services. I’m aware of the arguments about efficiency and all that, but I always seem to have to wait until option 8, after listening privacy policy and 15 products they’d like to sell; or what I’m after isn’t an option; or, I finally get through and the automatic voice says they’re closed and they hang up. Agggghhh. My reactions are most ungodly at times.

I’m glad to say we won’t be installing any such device when you ring in; except for our ‘sick line’ where you just leave a message (adding the gory details of illness, hours of sleep lost, and survival tips for others.) When you ring our number you hear, “Good morning. Mount Evelyn Christian School. Debra speaking,” unless, of course, the front desk has gone ballistic that morning, and it’s “yeah, what’d ya want?”

No, even when she’s stressed, Deb wouldn’t do that. Why? Because she’s a magician at juggling the whirl of front desk balls, she likes people and she’s great at getting people connected or solving their problems. It’s what happens when someone is good at their job. They’re personable and they know the territory inside and out.

I hope that we are all ‘Debs’- where the listener knows your name; where you feel you are heard; where you have confidence that the response is meeting your need/concern. Deb leaves machines and automatic services for dead and 99% of the time the caller leaves quite satisfied, as opposed to what I feel when I get, ‘please dial 1 if you’d like to hear our policy on violent reactions to automated telephone services!’

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