Cell Phones in the High School Classroom
As my educator colleagues know, I take a slightly different approach to cell phone use in my classroom. I firmly believe that our job as educators is not only to prepare students for college and careers but also for life. To that end, I cannot recall a time that I have been required to surrender my cell phone or place it in a caddy in my adult life. Even as an AP Reader with strict security protocols, I always had my cell phone in my pocket as did many other Readers in the reading room.
Given this, I choose not to have a caddy in my room or require that students place their phones in it. Instead, I spend a substantial amount of time at the beginning of the year and as needed throughout the year discussing digital citizenship with my students. The gist of the conversation is that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to use your cell phone--and there are also a lot of gray areas!
I use myself and personal anecdotes to make the point. For instance, this year during our all-staff district-wide back-to-school meetings, I looked around the auditorium at different points and noticed many staff members on their cell phones. For all I know, they may have been using their cell phones for very appropriate reasons and to enhance their learning. I even took out my cell phone and snapped a picture of one of the presenter's slides and sent it to my wife because it reminded me of a conversation we had last weekend. My point is that we as adults use our cell phones all the time and rarely if ever are we asked to surrender them or put them in a caddy.
Now I understand that high-school students do not necessarily have the maturity, experience, or cognitive ability to know and decide for themselves when it is appropriate to use their cell phone. That is why they need us to help teach them this skill, and as with anything, they will only learn through trial and error. In practice, I always give students a warning when I notice that their cell phone has become a distraction for themselves or others. Usually, they self-correct their behavior, and it is not an issue for the rest of the class period; however, if they continue to be distracted by their cell phone, I will confiscate it for the remainder of the class period. They get it back at the end of the hour, and we try again next class period. Only in a few instances have I ever had students turn in their phones to me at the beginning of class, and this was due to a mutual agreement between me and the student that they wanted me to hold on to their phone to allow them to learn.
In closing, I believe that our primary responsibility as educators is to prepare students for life in the 21st century, and that life will almost certainly include cell phones and electronic devices. Our job as educators is to prepare students to be responsible citizens in the non-digital and digital world.