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It’s time to ban phones in the classroom

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The number of technological tools at the disposal of teachers and students is impressive. I graduated high school in the 2000s, so I’m not old, but even I can appreciate how far we’ve come in the last 20 years. However, I am concerned about how the phones have affected my students and their learning, and I think it is time for schools to implement stricter policies banning phones in the classroom. That’s why.

As a high school teacher, phones are a constant distraction.

I didn’t get into this profession for the police phones, and I never thought I’d be fighting for students’ attention like I am now. And this issue isn’t new: it’s been problematic for years, but in my experience it’s getting worse. In a 2019 study 45 percent of teens said they are “almost constantly” online.

My students are addicted to their devices.

They move through the corridors with their heads down and their thumbs typing frantically. They take their seats just before the bell and continue scrolling. I typically stand in the hallways between classes to greet students as they enter, and it’s disconcerting that many don’t respond or don’t hear my greeting because of their headphones. This is bad. And if the learning wasn’t hard enough, it only gets worse.

More than any other year, I noticed a significant correlation between class grades and phone use.

Those who are often on the phone or while I am instructing often miss out. It’s hard to do well in class when you’re skipping the assigned reading, disconnecting during class, and really dependent on YouTube. It’s sad that students can’t go 56 minutes without checking Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. They cannot have their devices with them and self-regulate. They just can’t. Unfortunately, many adults can’t either. So why allow it in the classroom?

I tried asking students to put their phones away during class.

A caddy calculator or pocket cards are a great idea – numbered slots assigned to each student in the class. Students are expected to plug their phones into the appropriate slot during class. As someone who has undergone this type of procedure, I can say that it has been somewhat successful. Most students agreed, some needed only a gentle reminder, and only a few were blatantly resistant. Overall, it was good.

However, when COVID-19 hit, I dropped this policy due to hygiene reasons.

For all the uncertainty and fear, I’m not sure parents would react well to mandating the inclusion of a cell phone in a wall chart, especially if multiple classes share the same chart. Against the background of wearing a mask and cleaning the table often, this did not seem like a good idea.

Looking for more flexible alternatives…

I understand that some teachers value phones as teaching tools. For example, Kahoot is a popular quiz game that students enjoy and it requires them to use their phones. It’s great technology, but once students get their phones out, it’s hard to keep track of all the action. If they’re allowed to have their phones on them for an hour, you’re fighting for their attention at some point. It is inevitable.

Using a whiteboard is another method of regulating phone use in the classroom. At my school, teachers were given a double sided phone badge to attach to the board. The green side indicates the appropriate time to use the phone, and the red side indicates the prohibition. In theory, this is a good idea. When it’s Kahoot time, a green icon appears on the display and students do their thing. When it’s over, the red side will appear and goodbye phones. It sounds simple enough, and of course students will stick with it for a while, but over time it can be difficult to manage. Also, sometimes teachers forget to flip from green to red. And the students will not rush to point out this mistake, I promise.

I think it’s time to ban phones altogether.

I believe we are now at a point where a school-wide ban on phones is the best option. The argument for academic use just doesn’t hold much weight for me. It’s a pity. In addition, computer labs and school Chromebooks are suitable for any academic activity.

One of the most obvious benefits is the consistency it promotes among staff. When you have one teacher with a strict no phone policy, one with something in between, and a third with no restrictions, it divides us. After the last few years of study, students need consistency. Actually, we all do. I would like to see students walk in my door with their heads held high, with a smile and in their ears, without any growths. I want to believe that classes can be filled with engaging discussions and critical thinking instead of TikTok videos and apathy.

Also, getting rid of phones completely will do wonders for students to learn how to properly interact with adults and develop social etiquette. Our ability to communicate effectively with others is very important and we need to get back to cultivating it in schools. Removing phones is a step in the right direction. We all need it.

Do you support banning phones in the classroom? Why or not? Please share in the comments.

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