Thursday, August 22, 2019

What Should We Do About Cell Phones?

It's happening in some schools, and I know a lot of my colleagues will love the idea. I've got mixed feelings. Certainly I spend more time than I'd like to looking out for cell phone use, and certainly I also have more phones confiscated than I'd like to. (Ideally, it would be zero).

For me at least, most cell phone use is stopped with a word or a look. Students know I'm a pain in the ass and generally put them away when signaled. Of course, there are those who take extreme measures, like challenging me, and that doesn't end well for them.

Once, in fact, after I called the dean on a repeat offender, he announced, "I put the fucking phone away." I'm not sure how that was supposed to improve the situation. After that, when the dean came, he punched the wall outside with his fist and was removed from my class permanently.

More frequently it's about me bending over in some odd position to see the phone underneath the table or desk. Now here's the thing--I've got varying degrees of patience, and the phone is not the only thing that tries my patience. Sometimes students come in late every single day, and I hate that. I will call home, and I will speak to the student, and I will do whatever I can think of to alter that behavior. But by the time that student uses a phone in my class, my patience may be exhausted, and mom or dad could have to come in and pick up the phone.

This may discourage a student from lateness, or whatever habit I'd like to see discouraged, or it may not. But it couldn't hurt to try after everything else has failed. I've seen teachers get bad write-ups on rating sheets because too many students came late, or because they failed to challenge them. I've also seen teachers get letters in file for the way they spoke to them when they arrived, Why did you challenge the student? Why didn't you wait until you could speak privately? So that's a lose-lose when you're dealing with some supervisors.

Maybe the phones discourage things students used to do back when I was in high school. Maybe there are fewer notes being passed. I don't have a statistical study. However, as long as there have been classrooms, there have been students who didn't want to be in them, students who watched the clock and searched for something, anything other than your lesson to occupy their restless minds. Is the phone simply a vehicle for that?

It may be, but it's a lot more effective in some ways. In the past, I'd have had to copy all the answers to a multiple choice test to help you cheat, or you'd have to be seated strategically close enough to copy from me. Now I can just photograph the paper and text it to you. Personally, I hate cheating, and I hate the idea that I have to be uber-vigilant to prevent it. Nonetheless it's 2019, and getting harder every moment to keep up.

I wear an Apple Watch, and I get info on my wrist all the time. First, it gives me the correct time always, not matter how far off the school clock may be. It tells me the weather outside. And every time I get a text or email it flashes across my screen. Though mine doesn't, some of these watches can transmit and receive info independently of the phone. That technology is almost certain to be expanded upon in the very near future. Are we going to also check the watches? What's the next development going to be? Will we check student glasses to make sure they don't transmit anything?

Simple answers are tough to come by. I understand putting forth tougher measures when we are testing, even if they are a pain. Day to day, I think we're going to have to find more practical solutions. Our school policy is this--students may carry phones, but are not permitted to use them in class without express permission of the teacher. So far, that's mostly worked for me.

If we use those pouches, do we allow students to take them out in the lunchroom? Do we require they be shut in some of the time or all of the time? Do we make parents call the school in case of an emergency, and hope that someone answers the phone, and hope that the person who answers the phone is not only able but inclined to seek out the children in question? Are you good with that as a parent?

Also, will the pouches work, or will we end up monitoring for pouch violations instead of phone violations?

What works for you? How would you make policy, if you were the mayor or chancellor? What do you tell your kids about phone use in school?
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