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Driven Crazy by Cell Phones

Can we get back to work, please?

Diane asks:
Our cell phone/Ipod policy is a joke! We are supposed to confiscate them, give them to the vice principal, and a parent is supposed to pick them up, but this is not enforced at all! I have taken phones away when I catch students texting, but I am at my wits’ end! I feel like changing my title from teacher to cell phone police. Any advice?


Kate Ortiz: I make school policies clear to students and enforce them to the best of my abilities even when administrators do not follow through. When a student is texting, I move to them, hold my hand out, and with a look of empathy, wait for the phone. If astudent says it is a stupid rule, he was just texting his mom, etc., I say we don’t have to agree with it, but it is his job to follow it and mine to enforce it. Once a phone rang in class, the student said, “Aw man! It’s my dad!” I said, “Bummer” and held out my hand.

Another thought: Sometimes you can use school policies to teach students about positive ways to voice their opinions. I have told my class about a group of students who objected to our “no skateboards” rule. They wrote a petition, got signatures, met with the principal. They discovered the issue was lack of storage space. They learned how to write a grant and got the money to buy skateboard racks. Now students are allowed to ride skateboards to school.

P. Blake: I am a middle school receptionist. Our policy is, electronic devices should not be on during the day. Staff can confiscate and turn them in to me. Only the parent can pick up the device. I remind the parent of the policy in their student handbook and hand them a copy. About 95 percent of parents comply and discipline their student. 

Diane: Thank you! I have used a lot of your ideas.  I had a girl who repeatedly was texting. I confiscated the phone for the second time after her mom had already been in for a conference. She is receiving a grade of 65, regardless of her academic performance, based on insubordination (65 is just passing). 

 Barb: In my state, it isn’t legal to tie grades to misbehavior. Grades are based on academic performance only. 

Robert: Probably it is improper/illegal in all states to tie academic grades directly to behavior, but there is that little loophole we call  “participation.”  In my classes, it usually constitutes about l0 percent of the grade.

Barb: I allow my students to step outside and use their phone in a crisis. They define “crisis,” not me. I also let them borrow my phone. If you don’t care about students and their situations, are you in the right field? Yes, I do confiscate cell phones, but I rarely need to once they understand they can use their phone if they have to.  When a phone rings or vibrates in class, I ask politely that the owner turn it off. No fear of punishment. Sometimes I’m abused, but then that one student pays an appropriate consequence. If you’re not reasonable, students will find a way around.

Irene: I am a teacher completing a research project for a master’s on student cell phone use during class. I have learned: 1) Parents view cell phones as a safety issue. This is a misperception. The parent may call the school and the student will be called out of class immediately. 2) In a survey of 105 students owning phones, 60 reported daily communication with parents during class, an average of eight times a day. Obviously these are not all emergencies. 3) Of the same 105 students, 91 use a cell phone daily during class to talk to friends, an average of 21 times a day.  


NEA’s classroom management advice column

Kate Ortiz, a teacher and classroom management expert from Chariton, Iowa, responds to every question posted online within 24 hours, and many other colleagues contribute, too.

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