My journey to shoot for the moon.

Phones and High School

I know that if I were a high school student I would want to be able to use my phone at school.  But as a teacher and a parent (David starts high school in the fall), I know that phones are distracting at school.  I really don’t have a problem with kids using their phones during passing periods and during lunch.  I don’t have a problem with kids listening to music (either on their phone or ipod, etc.) while they are working.  I DO have a problem with kids using their phones when I’m trying to teach.  I don’t know why they think that this is ok.

Some teachers I work with have a “no penalty” box for phones.  The kids put their phones in the box when they enter the classroom and then get them on the way out.  This way they don’t get in trouble for using their phones during class.  I think that this is a good way to manage kids and phones in school.  However, many kids have data plans on their phones and can use them to access the internet.  I had one of my classes working on a vocabulary assignment (they were to work in pairs and find the definitions of the vocabulary words from our reading), and many of the kids used their phones to access the internet to look up the definitions of the words.  Is this an appropriate use of technology in the classroom?   ABSOLUTELY!  Do I want my students, who have learning disabilities, to use whatever technology is available to them?  Yes!

The question is, how to find a balance?  I’m still working on that one.  How do I encourage kids to use their phones (and ipods, etc.) to access technology that will make their learning easier, without encouraging the use of phones for texting (or cheating) in the classroom?

First of all, I am teaching 3 classes.  While 2 of the classes are supposed to be the same course, the coursework is vastly different.  Cheating, by having another student giving out the questions prior to a test,  cannot happen in my classroom because none of my classes are doing the same thing.  Also, most of my quizzes/tests are open note so it is a moot point.

So, cheating isn’t an issue in my classes at this time.  That doesn’t mean that it won’t be in the future.  But it is one issue that I don’t have to worry about right now.

Texting, on the other hand, is an issue.  I don’t want to strictly limit phone usage in my classroom for two reasons.  First, I look at my phone throughout the day.  I don’t do it while I am teaching, but when my students are working independently, I do make sure that I haven’t gotten a call.  I have computer access throughout the day, so I can check my email at any time, but with Chris’ condition and the boys being alone at times, I feel that I need to be reachable.   Recently, when Michael was home sick (he was alone), I let my students know that if he called, I was going to answer.  They also know that on certain mornings he is by himself for a while and that he needs to be able to reach me.  I am honest about it and the kids seem to understand.  But isn’t it hypocritical of me to expect that my kids can reach me while I’m at school and not allow the kids to reach their parents (or vice-versa)?  I think that it is.  If a kid tells me that their parent is calling, I allow them to take the call in the hallway.  It has only happened a few times, and no one has abused my understanding.

The second reason I don’t want to strictly limit texting in my classroom is that if it becomes a “forbidden” thing, I think that it will become harder to monitor.  Basically, I think that kids will try to hide doing it, rather than doing it in the open.  That means that I would need to police it more and enforce strict rules and consequences.  That isn’t to say that I allow a ton of open texting.  I don’t.  I have told the kids that a quick text is ok.  BUT, not while I am teaching (I tell them that I like to be the center of attention) and not while they are working in groups.  I tend to ignore a quick text.  If a kid is texting a lot during class, I ask them to put their phone away.  If I have to ask a second time, I ask them to put their phone on my desk.  If this happens more than twice, I will have them put their phone on my desk when they walk into class.  Although, it doesn’t seem to a be an issue most of the time.

This past week, I had a kid who did cause a problem.  However, this kid had already missed my class 5 times (unexcused  – and this is since Jan. 3 – and we meet 3 times a week).  He was texting during class and the first time I let it slide.  The second time, I asked him to put it away.  He took his sweet, old time doing so.  The next time I saw him with his phone texting, I told him to put it away.  He didn’t pause his texting, so I told him that I wanted it on my desk. He put it in his pocket.  I told  him that he needed to put it on my desk.  He walked out of class.  I notified security.

One of my other students said, “Well, that was uncalled for.”  I asked him what he meant.  He said that the student walking out of class because I asked him to put his phone away was uncalled for.  The official policy for phones (and texting), is that they are not allowed in class.

Due to this student walking out of class, and his extreme disrespect, I wrote this student up.  Basically, this is “referring” them to administration.  I followed the write up with an email to the Administrator telling her that not only did the student walk out of class because he was using his phone (and I asked him to put it on my desk), he had 5 unexcused absences.  I told her that, I wanted an apology from the student and that I would be requiring him to put his phone on my desk for the remainder of the semester.  She agreed.  So, the plan was that when the student showed up, the Aid was to get Security, who would escort him down to her office.  Surprisingly enough, he hasn’t shown up for class.  He is failing and had 8 unexcused absences.

This student is obviously not interested in his education.  He is missing a number of his classes, but showing up for his PE Weight Lifting class.  This makes me very angry.  When I pointed this out to the administrator, she said that she would have to pull him out of PE.  She said that he shouldn’t be allowed to attend only the classes he wanted.  She is going to require him to attend Saturday school ad she is going to start Truancy Court proceedings.  Meanwhile, the student will not be able to make up the work in my class.  He chose to skip class, and I chose not to allow him to make it up.  That means, most likely, that he will fail my class.  It saddens me that this will be the case, but I cannot help a student who doesn’t want to learn.

As for high school students and phones, I stand by my informal policies.  And my students know that it is a privilege to be able to listen to music in my class.  They can lose this privilege.  I believe that if I treat my students like the young adults that they are and give them the responsibility for their own choices, they will learn to make the right decisions.  I have to believe that they will make the right decisions.  Otherwise, why am I teaching, if not to help them learn to make the right decisions?


Comments on: "Phones and High School" (4)

  1. Sorry, but I don’t get kids bringing phones to school period. Every minute they don’t have control of the phone their mind is on what they are going to text when they do get the phone back.

    How did we manage all those years without them…

    Blessings – Maxi


    • Maxi –
      Many of the kids have internet access on their phones. They have their schedules and their to-do lists. I get that and try to use that as a positive in my class. If we need to look things up in the dictionary, the kids know that they can pull out their phones and use the internet. I encourage them to use their resources. Especially, my students who generally have learning disabilities. Technology can be an equalizer.

      All of that being said – when teenage drama is happening, I hate the phones. Words fly too quickly – not like when you had to wait to pass a note – and as we know, you can’t take back your words.

      Personally, I have my email on my phone. Many, many people share information by email and having this information will often help me do my job. But, when I’m teaching (unless there is something going on at home – and I’ve been very honest with the kids about when I might need to use my phone – like when Michael is home alone in the morning) I don’t have my phone near me.

      And I really don’t know how we did without them – I think mostly the world was a much smaller (safer) place.


  2. myfriendmissmiller said:

    I think you are doing the right thing! In the past I have been very laid back about phones, but this year I decided to stick to a policy. I have a “3 strikes and you’re out”, with blank forms already typed and in a binder. The first time is a warning to put it away. The second time I take it until the end of class and they get a 15-minute lunch detention. The third time, their phone goes to the office and they usually don’t get it back for a few weeks. I haven’t ONCE had to permanately take someone’s phone this year!

    I, too, an in agreement with you about allowing them to use their phones when appropriate. I teach ESL and we have a shortage of dictionaries. My policy is if you don’t ask, and I don’t give “whole-class” permission, then they will have a strike. But, it is REALLY amazing when a Nepali student is able to pull out her phone to get the translation of something that I can’t help her with.



    • The ESL teacher at our school said there were some really great translation programs. I haven’t had to look into any of them yet, although I have one ESL student. He doesn’t speak English very well, but he understands almost everything.

      I love the idea of integrating technology into the classroom and giving the kids the opportunities to do things like we do in the “real world.” It is just a matter of being appropriate.

      Thanks again for reading!


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