Cell phones and other burning issues

I am late getting on this topic.  I read the post on change.org when it was made,but I didn’t have time to really pay a lot of attention.  I pretty much dismissed it almost immediately.  While I don’t love phones in general, anyone who says

Cell phones baffle me.

is so far from my world that I didn’t pay a lot of attention.  But Ira’s post over at SpeEdChange made me look at the original post again.  He says:

This teacher is talking about nothing here but her own comfort and belief system. She thinks best when it is quiet. She thinks best when focused on one thing. She believes there is a specific way to study a text. And it is her job to bring these students to her beliefs.

The fact that some of us might function best in other ways, that some of us might need other structures, does not occur to her. If we would only “come to the light” – we would understand.

He encourages people to go to the original post and read the whole discussion, so I did.  It was fascinating.

The original post discusses everything from cell phone rudeness in class to the author’s belief that

By forcing them to put their phones and laptops away, I am giving them the opportunity to stop the random, jittery stimulation and instant information that surrounds them at all times, and instead turn their attention to a deep and slow understanding of one specific text, idea or question.

What strikes me most about the original post is the author’s conviction that she is right.  Maybe I am crazy, but I am seldom convinced that what I do in the classroom is “right”.  I am constantly experimenting, looking for a better way to do things.  While you may not agree with me, I do not think this makes me a “bad” teacher.  In fact, I think it is one of my strengths as a teacher.   But, of course, I may not be right.  Maybe it is a weakness.  What I am sure of is that if I continue to question my own teaching, I will discover if I am on the wrong track pretty quickly.

The discussion after the original post is even more interesting than the original post.  Both sides of the issue (and maybe a couple other angles, too!) are represented.  Ira himself posts his rules for cell phones in his classroom:

(1) Keep it out, on your desk. That way, if you’ve forgotten to silence the ring, we’re not waiting for you to find it in your backpack.

(2) If you need to talk, go outside. No big deal.

(3) Have it on all the time – we’ll be using it – polleverywhere, todaysmeet, SMS questions to people out of the classroom, sharing links, putting important notes in our calendars.

Of course the discussion that follows points out that not everyone has internet access on their phones, but basically Ira’s rules make sense to me:

  1. Keep the cell phones out. It gretly increases the chance that you will remember to set the phone to silent.  I have on occasion forgotten to do that.  If I had taken it out of my bag, I would have remembered to do  it.
  2. Keep the phones on.  I have no problem with that.  Like Ira, I don’t mind if a student has to leave the room to make or receive a call.  If it happened all the time, it would make me wonder if the student has a problem I need to know about or if I am somehow just not engaging him/her in class.  If my students are not engaged, I need to know it.
  3. If I didn’t teach in a computer lab and if my students — even some of them — had access to the internet on their phones, I would definitely use them this way.  As it is, that is how we use the computers in front of us each and every class.

Another comment talked about it being more important to have students respect us than to like us.  I agree.  I do not have to be my students’ friend.  But I also don’t think that they will respect me because I tell them to put their cell phones away.  I earn their respect by creating a learning environment where they feel free to express their ideas, where they feel respected in every way.  Students don’t respect us because we exercise our authority but rather because we demonstrate qualities that they see as worthy of respect.  Respect doesn’t come automatically with your teaching credentials or your degree.

If students are consistently using cell phones in non-academic or non-emergency ways in class, it is time to think about what you are doing as a teacher.  If they use them to cheat on exams, maybe you need to change your exams.  If they use them to escape from the monotony of a boring class, maybe you need to try to make it not so boring.

As teachers, we are responsible for what goes on in our classes.  It is our responsibility as the professional educator to look for the causes of the problems we encounter, not merely to deal with the symptoms.

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2 thoughts on “Cell phones and other burning issues

  1. John says:

    I wonder what I should do at times with the students’ cell phones. I don’t tell them to put them away and see them texting away which suggests I am losing them. However, some of them who text are also the ones pulling down the best grades so maybe they are ahead of the rest of the class who may have puzzled looks on their faces.

    • Nancy McKeand says:

      I think you have made an important point, John. I don’t think all students use the phones inappropriately for the same reasons. So a one-size-fits-all approach to handling the problem may not work. I think you are on the right track by even thinking about the issue.

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