Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cell Phones: Keep them Hidden or Limit their Use?

The community college I work for permits instructors to set the cell phone policies in their classrooms. Most students possess the maturity to turn off the ringer during class, but some students do leave to take a phone call. Around the student center, students sit in isolated little pockets, talking to their old friends via cell phone. It certainly colors the atmosphere in my classroom, but because of the age of my students, the problems are minimal.

High school teachers don’t teach only the mature students; they teach everybody who gets off the bus, so the cell phone issue isn’t as easy for them. According to Jo Craven McGinty’s New York Times piece, “Student Cellphone Rules Still Vague Despite Law,” city parents (including some City Council members) want a bill that would “allow students to transport cellphones to and from school.”

Currently, cell phones are banned from New York city schools. Where should the cell phones that are legally transported be while at school? “The Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said the bill would place the onus on education officials to figure out how and where students can store their phones during the school day.” City Council member Mr. Koppell, who supports the ban states, “’We have enough problem with discipline in our classrooms and order in our classrooms that we don’t need to make the teacher or the proctor a policeman to make sure the cellphone is off.’”

I get it. Parents want to ensure that their kids can reach them and vice versa, especially after school. However, adolescence is a time to gain maturity, and handling cell phone usage with consideration and good judgment is something with which many adults wrestle. Do schools really need another “onus,” Ms. Quinn?

Cell phones could be like hats. Students are allowed to wear hats to school, but then are expected to store them in the school-provided locker. If students wear hats in class, teachers are expected to stop them. “Remove your hat, please” comes from adults’ lips as often as “Good morning.”

No, wait! Cell phones could be like vending machine items. Students may only buy sodas and snacks before and after school despite the fact that the machines are usually on throughout the day. Students may buy a soda or snack as long as they don’t drink or eat it in class. Students are not supposed to use the vending machines on a bathroom pass. If students drink sodas or eat snacks in class, teachers are expected to stop them. “Put the soda away, please” can be heard as often as “Hello.”

Maybe cell phones are more like the dress code. Both cell phones and personal appearance can provide a distraction, right? There’s a list of appropriate and inappropriate dress, so as students come in the classroom, teachers monitor strap thickness and underwear coverage. Or MP3 players, that’s it! Cell phones could be regulated by the “can be seen but not used” rules of the ear buds…Ugh. Just writing about all the things teachers regulate before the teaching begins exhausts me.

If students know cell phones aren’t allowed at all, they will keep them hidden. It keeps the issue more clear: “Don’t let me see a cell phone in the school.” It is sad that parents can’t be sure their kids are safe on the way to school and want them to have cell phones, but must schools take on that problem, too? If schools create a whole new procedure around cell phone storage (look at how well we manage hats, vending machine items, and dress codes), we’ll just create more work for teachers, which takes time from learning.

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

1 comment:

Trisha Senkbeil said...

Everything that you stated is completely true! My students actually read a few articles on "cell phones in school", discussed it during a socratic seminar, and are writing persuasive research papers using this topic. There were some students who agreed that cell phones should be banned from schools - since they are always office phones students could use. The only problem, if they are allowed, comes with where are they stored during class? We don't have lockers for our students to use in our high school. Also, the "seen, but not heard" leads to the "how sneakly can I be?". I have caught numerous students texting their friends during class - just to see how they are doing in the other classroom. Some resolution does need to come so that we are actually able to focus on education.