Schools and Cell Phones: This Story Won’t End Where you Think!

I confess that as a teacher I had a difficult time sweating the small stuff. While my colleagues could spot gum in the mouth of a child in someone else’s classroom, that same child could be chewing like a cow on cud right in front of me and I wouldn’t notice. Kids that liked to snack while they worked loved me, and I was fine with notes or side conversation as long as it wasn’t disruptive and work was getting done. Life, in my opinion, was far too short to worry about behaviors that caused no great harm and had little bearing on my prime directive – teaching.

So when I moved up to the high school, I was similarly disinterested in stomping out the use of cell phones. It wasn’t an issue in my classroom, I’ll admit. My students were making up missed credits via a series of computer modules designed to remediate and/or allow students who didn’t fit in traditional classrooms to accelerate towards graduation. Instruction was one on one. A ringing phone quickly attended to or the occasional texting didn’t bother me. Again, as long as work was completed and progress was made, I allowed my students a certain amount of freedom in delegating their time.

But I was not the norm. Many of my colleagues had reactions that ranged from mildly annoyed to a near stroke over the use of cell phones in our building. I could see their point. Cell phones multiplied like tribbles. What began as a safety device that financially well-heeled parents attached to their kids like bells on kittens soon morphed into a must have status symbol and escalated into a ubiquitous and seemingly all-consuming need of kids to be constantly in contact with someone. Anyone.

Phones rang during lectures and kids texted when they needed to be paying attention. Phones were employed for the purpose of cheating on tests; two-thirds of all high school students cheat using their phones in some way, and, of course, kids simply avoid work when they have a cell handy to play with.

Probably the most troubling aspect of the cell is the idea that parents and childrenhave developed about their need to be in touch with each other all day long. When I was sixteen, I can recall going the entire day without needing to verify my continued well-being to my parents. I spent entire evenings and even went overnight without contacting my friends.  The damage to my psyche was minimal but, to be fair, expectations and needs have changed. We live in an era of extreme social interaction and that genie is not getting back in her bottle  – ever.

Cell phones were prohibited in my district at first; in fact 69% of high schools currently have some sort of prohibition or ban, but parents complained until the administration backed down and allowed students to carry them as long as they were off during the day. Kids could use their phones before or after school only. It wasn’t about distraction then, really. Cell phones invited theft and administrators hated dealing with stolen property. Teachers and principals are not police and don’t relish being forced into the role. Cell phones, at least in one middle school I worked in, were also used for illegal activities like selling illegal drugs, and drug use, though declining, is still a problem in our schools.

Distraction came though as phones multiplied and gained new and more attractive features. By the time I was a high school teacher, most kids had phones and used them to the point that I feared for their thumbs.

Cracking down on phone use felt like patrolling for gum chewers to me. Why not simply teach the students etiquette? I asked. We are teachers after all, doesn’t this fall under our jurisdiction?

I never got an answer nor did the fruitless war on cell phones end while I was still in the classroom. My students were apprised of my feelings and rules and we lived outside the law during my tenure.

However, public schools have recently begun to change their views on cell phone use by students. Some are questioning whether or not these phones – which are fast approaching mini-computer status – shouldn’t be used to aid the learning process. There are schools where teachers are being allowed to make use of the multi-functional abilities of today’s cell phones in conjunction with other social media.

To me it seems a no-brainer that schools have to come up with a way to incorporate technologies, and that means cell phones too, into the curriculum. With all the talk about preparing students for real world employment or higher education, social media and cell phones have to be addressed. And given that adults are hardly the best examples of proper cell phone use (I knew teachers who would have sooner cut off a limb than disconnect themselves from their phones), it is hypocritical to ban cell phones instead of simply coming up with ways to make their existences work for, rather than against, the educational process.

But that’s just my opinion. What do you think about school cell phone bans? What is necessary? What works? What doesn’t? What could be done instead?

High school break by hoyasmeg on Flickr
Ann Bibby


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Monica M.
Past Member 7 years ago

Well good for you Edward. Tell that to the kids, teachers, friends and family at Red Lake Senior High School in Minnesota or Columbine H.S in Colorado., or Albertville Realschule school near Stuttgart, Germany.
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Madeleine T.
Madeleine T.8 years ago

Thought you'd find this interesting

Gabi B.
Gabi B8 years ago

Denver Post
Posted: 02/23/2010 02:48:06 PM PST
Updated: 02/23/2010 07:02:32 PM PST

"Sean Ahearn, 13, saw the same scene unfold, dropped his cello, and jumped in a stranger's car. Then he called his mother, Colleen, with chilling words: "Don't come and
get me. Somebody's shooting in the school. I'm in a lady's car."

Here is one mother and child that were able to connect thanks to Sean's quick thinking and possession of a cell phone.

Because as anybody knows, you can't get through to a school in an emergency such as this or the bomb threat. Lines are tied up, chaos is generally in effect and focus is not on answering the office phone..

Gabi B.
Gabi B8 years ago

My thoughts and prayers are with the students, parents and staff of both schools today.

Gabi B.
Gabi B8 years ago

Date 2/23/2010
2 students shot by a rifle at Littleton Middle School in Littleton, Colorado as waiting for for school bus pick up and parent pick up. Shooter was an adult male. More details pending.

Note - This occurred 2 miles from Columbine High School. Imagine the horror and flood of memories for every parent, student, teacher and resident of that area

Pitts Middle School in Pueblo Colorado evacuated when a male called in a bomb threat. Students were immediately evacuated to the nearest High School.

I wonder how cell phones played out in these scenarios? How many parents were able to reach their children or friends of their students to verify their safety or locate them? How many students in fear and panic were able to reach a loved one for comfort and reassurance?

This isn't the days of Little House on The Prairie where we can just jump in the wagon and race to the little school house. Many parents work in a neighboring city and at their highest speed will drive an hour or more to reach their children.

If a school and a teacher cannot learn to evolve and incorporate modern technological and learning devices and methods in their classrooms, it is time to retire. If they cannot engage their students(discounting the few who cannot be reached or who can only be reached by that 1 adult), it is time to retire. The use of militant preventative actions in order to control a classroom is a sign of an inability to actually deal with students. It is also a sign of l

Linda J.
Linda J8 years ago

Not sure but I know that cell phones come in extremely handy
when some of the kids go on there killing sprees.I know in some cases it was the last time some parents spoke to there children.I do agree that there shoul be rules cabout them but they have a it or not.lIKE EVERYTHING ELSE...IT IS GOOD AND BAD.

Michael Cozens
Michael Cozens8 years ago

This "techno-phobia" is very concerning - new technologies are always viewed with fear, and this tends to make for extreme reactions. Learning to incorporate cellphones into the learning process is a much saner approach.

Paritosh P.
Paritosh P8 years ago

we should make our kids educated on the usage of cellphones

Paritosh P.
Paritosh P8 years ago

thanks for the post