“Hey,” I say as I lean toward a student in the front row, “Phones are not allowed in class, remember? Please put yours away.”
“Hold on a sec,” the student replies energetically, “I’m about to catch a Pokémon!”
“And, it’s a rare one,” exclaims the student sitting next to him.
This is the painfully funny, true story that describes my first day of teaching this year.
I have a long and varied teaching career. It spans two decades, four schools, and three states. Due to a six-year hiatus to raise my children, followed by five years teaching at a low-technology charter school, it has been 11 years since I taught at a traditional public school. I am here to tell you, that things have changed dramatically.
I recently accepted a teaching position at a highly esteemed public high school in Jacksonville. On my first day, I was shocked at the cell phone usage. In class, every time I reminded one student to put their phone away, not only was I met with resistance and disdain, but the other students took the opportunity to check their phones while I was otherwise occupied. Some kids attempted to use phones secretly in their laps or under desks, some used their phones in plain sight, while others stared vacantly, unaware of what was occurring in class while listening unabashedly to whatever content was playing through their earbuds.
I am an energetic, enthusiastic, engaging, and passionate teacher, but even I am unable to compete with cell phones for attention during class. Additionally and equally alarming, kids look at their phones while walking in the hallways and during lunch instead of interacting with other people.
Cell phones are a huge problem in school. Phones are distracting, and addicting, and contribute to severe adverse side effects such as depression and sleep deprivation. Not only do cell phones make it difficult for students to pay attention in class, but they also have the potential to expose students to inappropriate material, exasperate the body image crisis, and “may lead to a higher risk of poor mental health,” according to the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy.
Kids are not using their phones appropriately at school, even if they tell you that they are. Additionally, smartwatches and earbuds make phones accessible even while put away.
As a teacher, I want to prohibit all cell phones and wireless accessories at school.
As a parent, I understand the infinite reasons related to communication and safety that seemingly necessitate your child having a phone.
As a teacher, however, I counter these arguments with the fact that there are plenty of devices available that allow for communication and location tracking that do not allow access to social media, games, or the internet.
But, your child already has a smartphone, and you have no intention of taking it away.
So, what can we do to solve this dilemma? As with most things school-related, teachers and parents need to work together. First, the State of Florida passed a law that allows teachers to collect phones at the beginning of class. I personally ordered a 36-pocket cell phone storage case and will enact my new cell phone policy on Monday. This will help but will do nothing to stop or even slow the use of smartwatches and earbuds during class.
Second, cell phone usage is a Code of Conduct Violation in Duval County. Enforcing the policy includes asking students to put their phones in the holding area, taking phones away if a student is caught with a phone, calling parents to document any phone-related incident, and finally referring students to the office. This process is arduous and infringes on valuable learning and teacher-planning time. However, I hope that my efforts will help students realize the inherent need to disconnect from their phones at school.
Finally, parents talk to your children about this law, encourage them to comply with classroom expectations surrounding cell phone usage, and remind your children of the personal responsibility that comes with owning a phone. Enact consequences for cell phone violations at school.
I love teaching. I love seeing the look on a student’s face when they grasp a new concept for the first time. I love watching kids succeed. I do not love managing phones or having to compete with phones for students’ attention. Cell phone usage at school is a crisis. As a teacher, I am willing to do my part, but I need support. Let’s work together as parents and teachers to give our children the best possible chance of success at school this year.
Our “Dear Parent, From a Teacher” series helps parents obtain the tools and insight to ensure a successful school year for their children. If you are a teacher who wishes to write a guest blog for this series, please email your topic to [email protected].
About the Author
Donna Westrich grew up in the north, fell in love, and started her family out west, and is currently raising twin adolescent boys and a wild-at-heart husband in Jax Beach. Donna was born to teach. She has taught everything from bus driving to swim classes, adult group fitness to middle school science. She engages her students with a high level of energy and funny stories. As soon as her students are having fun, she teaches them science. Donna loves to run with friends, talk to her three sisters on the phone, and hike the Grand Canyon. She spends her summers road-tripping with her family, camping in the mountains, and plunging into as much ice-cold water as her family can find. Donna’s favorite thing is to make people laugh. She hopes to save the world with laughter someday.