Q: My son has a teacher that lets the students have their phones in class. Not for academic purposes. Just to use. The teacher says she’d rather they have them out than to secretly use them and be distracted from the class. I’ve told my son I don’t want him to use it in class, but he insists he’ll be made fun of if he’s the only one without it. What should I do?
I have toured schools where I’ve seen teachers who allow this. Some let students use their phones for a specific academic purpose. But for those who permit it for other reasons, I would ask a simple question: what do you think the kids are looking at?
The answer, as a multitude of surveys can tell you, is usually one or more of the following: social media (Snapchat, Instagram, etc.), video games, YouTube videos or pornography. There’s also texting. I talked to a high school student last week who got over 100 texts in a single class period and all of them were from students who were in classes themselves, supposedly learning.
Another question: which of the above do you think are most likely to help increase students’ attention skills and work ethic?
Answer: none of them.
While common sense would dictate that students plus phones plus class is a bad equation, what does the research say?
A study published by the London School of Economics showed that students in schools where phones were banned had higher test scores than those at schools where they weren’t. Interestingly, the biggest beneficiaries of those higher scores were the lowest-performing students. Principals take note.
A study by the Journal of Communication Education noted that students without phones wrote more information in their notes, remembered more of what they were taught and scored higher on tests than those without them.
Perhaps most critically, a study by the University of Chicago showed that people’s ability to focus and comprehend is reduced by the mere presence of the cell phone in the same room. Even if it’s off. Even if it’s placed face down. Even if it’s put away.
So the idea that a smartphone in your child’s hand will help him learn is highly unlikely. It’s more likely to go the other direction.
Why, then, would teachers allow it? There are dozens of reasons, but in conversations with lots of other teachers there are two that seem most significant: 1) The teacher wants his students to like him. He wants to be the “cool” teacher. 2) The teacher needs the phones to keep his students under control. Kids on their phones are quiet, sedentary kids. Without them, chaos may reign.
In the first case, the teacher should realize that being liked is optional, but being respected is mandatory. When students realize that the teacher’s largesse is based on personal insecurity and low self-esteem, they will proceed to manipulate the teacher into even greater concessions. And nobody truly respects someone they manipulate.
If it’s the second case, the teacher must realize that he is simply dosing the students, not disciplining them. Medicating people into compliance generally precludes you from inspiring them. And why become a teacher at all if not to inspire? The answer here is to formulate a better discipline plan and stick to it.
There is a third reason and I hope its adherents are in the extreme minority. Some teachers simply throw their hands in the air and say, “This is the way kids are these days. Why fight it?”
Why fight it? Because you, good sir or dear madam, elected to become a teacher and a teacher always fights. Our most fearsome foes are ignorance and apathy, monsters that grow larger every day, especially when allowed to feast at the trough of the high calorie smartphone. A teacher who lays down his sword at the feet of these foes is no teacher at all. He is just another victim.
We live in a new world of sloppy work ethic and inability to focus. Part of a teacher’s job is to help students overcome those obstacles, not embed them into their character. A conference with the instructor, followed by a request for a schedule change if no action is taken, is absolutely called for.
To be an asset, a teacher doesn’t have to be all that exciting, especially talented or even very good. They just can’t surrender.
Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. He is the recipient of the 2018 first place award in column writing from the South Carolina Press Association. To submit a question or receive notification of new columns, email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.com. Follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook at facebook.com/teachertoparent and on Twitter @stallings_jody.