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Cell Phone Use in the Classroom: Yay or Nay?

I have a friend, a high school math teacher, who described her recent work frustration that she’s not allowed to enforce a “no cell phone rule” during instructional class time. What the actual heck. I can’t get this out of my head. She told me she’s allowed to “ask” students to put their phones away, but can’t force the issue.

I just can’t feel like this makes any sense.

Why would any student need to be on a mobile phone (unless related to the current instruction) during class time? Why would a student be defiant of a teacher’s classroom request? My friend’s strategy around this is to let her students know at the beginning that she’s going to do 20 minutes of instructional time, during which could they please put away their phones so they can actually LEARN, and then she’ll give them a short break in between topics (60ish minute class) to check their phones. It’s the best she can do. And not everyone complies, apparently. Not by a long shot. She is allowed to notify the school police officer or school resource officer (SRO) if she thinks some actual trouble is happening with the phone. However, for just “usage” she reports that if every teacher called on the SRO each time a student refused to put their phone away, the officer couldn’t get to everyone, let alone address any real issues in the school day.

In my kids’ school (parochial), there’s a basket in every homeroom for students to leave their phones at the beginning of the day and retrieve them at dismissal. To my knowledge there have been NO reports of theft or damage. My middle schooler says that the system works and it’s “just not a big deal!” Not sure how this would translate to high school logistically, but I fundamentally like the idea of kids not even being tempted to look at their phones during the school day.

All this being said, I worry that kids aren’t able to focus on learning if they’re being constantly distracted by receiving text messages or checking their phones for other reasons.

I tried to look into this a bit. First, students do have privacy and free speech rights under the Constitution, so they cannot be censored in their communication, unless it’s about something illegal. But I’m not even talking about THAT stuff. I’m talking about students not paying attention to the teacher because they are too caught up in their social lives. It seems that different school districts have different regulations regarding specific use, and some school districts do indeed forbid cell phone use during the school day, but not most. I’m not sure that most adolescents have the maturity or discipline to restrain themselves from this “compulsion for connection” that has become the norm in our society. But I’d like to think that most students would respect and understand the rationale for “no cell phones” during class time. My friend refutes me on this. Say it isn’t so!

So while not exactly a medical topic, I put this out there today in the interest of child advocacy and the quality of education of our future generation.

Find out what your school district’s policy is about cell phone usage during the school day, and comply with it. Further, if your child’s school allows phones, understand how your child’s teacher handles this issue. And finally, let’s all try to parent our children to act respectfully and make the most of their learning. Sounds preachy I suppose, but it’s heartfelt indeed.

How do you manage your child’s cell phone use? Do you have personal rules that you expect them to follow during school time? Sound off – how do you feel about this school’s policy?



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