The other day when I posted a link to my website with the "Cell Phone Stadium" information, I started getting texts, and then a few emails. As you might have guessed, phones in school are a tremendous issue (BTW--I've been told I can stop saying "cell" phone because no one uses any other kind!). Not to put too fine a point on this, but we required students to be on screens for HOURS at a time. Granted, we didn't have a whole lot of choices, but to then believe that we can ask students to flip a switch and return to what was is delusional.
Pre-pandemic, I was 100% pro-phone. I believed that teaching students how to manage their devices, display proper etiquette, and utilize self-control was a 21st-century skill. It still is, but the world has thrown all of us so off-kilter it is hard to figure out what skills we should be focusing on. Add the increase in school violence into the mix, and phones in classrooms become a hot-button topic. As a parent, I want my own children to have their phones with them at all times. I won't apologize for that, but I will say that as a teacher phones are the number one issue I now have.
Interestingly, pre-pandemic, students overwhelmingly followed the rules of my classroom regarding phone use, knowing that abuse would lose them the privilege of using it. However, since the pandemic, it is as if they can't control themselves. Even the most compliant student is sneaking peeks at their phones which are supposed to be in their lockers anyway. I had an interesting observation that has now informed my plan for this year.
Last year, students were dismissed from my last-period class. Once the school day was over, and while they waited for their busses to be called, I allowed them time to check their messages, text with parents, and simply scroll as we waited. Despite having a typical mix of students, this class had the least issues with being on their phones during class. It seemed easier for them to live with, "Phones away. You'll have time at the end," versus pretending that they shouldn't want to be on their phones. Of course, they wanted to be on their phones. For the majority of students, they had lived on it pretty much 24-7 for the better part of the year. Many used it for classes, but it was all that quarantined downtime that led to scrolling, texting, Snapping, Facetiming, Tik-Tokking, gaming--anything to keep them from losing their minds--just like the adults.
For example, I had never, not even once, binge-watched anything on Netflix pre-pandemic. I'm not proud of this, but my entire family may or may not have watched all of Tiger King in let's just say "record time." As I said, I'm not proud. My crew at home is eclectic, so we went all in on several documentaries too, weirdly comforted by anything Apocalyptic we could get our hands on (think Ruby Ridge and Waco docu-dramas). I try not to psychoanalyze us too much, but escapism was high on our priority list and clearly the theme of isolation was a part of our obsession. Now consider this: many of our students weren't in the living room with their families because they didn't have that luxury, or their families were working. They were in their bedrooms, on back porches, and in basements, trying to find some space to have relationships with each other, navigating the only platform they had: their phones.
So, my philosophy remains the same: students need to know how to use their cell phones (oops! phones) appropriately. However, we are just not there. None of us are. I still find myself slipping into a Netflix fog in my downtime. I've not quite figured out how to "be" after this pandemic, and for now I kind of keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Above all, I think we need to continue to give each other and our selves some grace right, but that doesn't mean we don't try to move forward.
That means that we have to face this cell phone/ screen time addiction. I don't have THE answer because I think it definitely depends on the grade you teach, the culture and climate of the building, the families you serve, and your own tolerance for distractions. That's the one thing that I haven't heard people talk about: when I see a student on their phone out of the corner of my eye, I lose my train of thought, interrupting the flow of my teaching. I think though, that I have AN answer, so here it goes.
I purchased a "Cell Phone Stadium" at JoAnnes. It is meant to allow crafters to display their paints or supplies in a stadium fashion. I had been entertaining the whole clear shoe holder thing, but I didn't love it. I knew I wanted a charging area too, since I let kiddos charge their phones in my room daily. The "Cell Phone Stadium" is silly, I know, but I live in Bills Country with our very own Mafia, so the kiddos will get it.
My pitch is simple:
1) You can put your phone in the Cell Phone Stadium or in your locker. It can not remain with you because it is a distraction. You can not help this. Our brains are trained to be rewarded by our notifications. Removing the distraction from you will save you from yourself!
2) Turn the ringer off. Once your phone is in the Cell Phone Stadium, it needs to cease being a distraction.
3) Charge! Feel free to use the chargers provided or bring your own and charge. It always feels good to be prepared with a full battery, right?
4) 3 minutes at the end. You will retrieve your phone when we have 3 minutes left. You'll be allowed to check your messages, text whomever you need to, even call your mom if you want. If you give our classroom community your full attention and best self during class, I can agree to allowing you a few minutes to check in with your phone.
The part I won't like is that there will be someone who chooses to keep their phone on them and check it anyway. It will be a choice though, since I'll be at the door directing them how to use their flexible seating and to place their phones in the stadium. When I see it, I will stop what I am doing, ask for their phone, and return it to them at the end of the period (not the last three minutes). That's the first strike. The second strike is the same, but I then have them call home with me. Hopefully that will be enough of a deterrent, but upon the third strike, I deliver their phone to their Assistant Principal. They will have to deal with them to get it back. Obviously I hope I don't encounter this, but I'm planning for it anyway. I'll be laying this out to families as well, so there won't be any surprises.
I asked my own kiddos, a freshman and a senior, what they thought of the idea. My freshman didn't like it, but begrudgingly admitted it was fair. My senior liked the idea, as she had already been thinking about leaving her phone in her locker this year. When I asked why, she said it would be easier to just tell her friends that she was doing that then to have to try to text back during the day. Hopefully, students will easily be able to say, "I was in Chandler's class," and their friends will know that their phones weren't available to them. However, I know the social pressure of middle school all too well, so those last three minutes are my concession. Incidentally, those 3 minutes are just now being added back to our schedule, as we'd had extra passing time. I'm not really losing anything, but that's my secret.
I'm pretty confident that this is AN answer that will work for me, but stay tuned. I'd love to hear what you are doing in your classroom. This, for sure, seems to be a problem across the board, and I know when things reach critical mass like this that the best place to look for answers is to all of our educator friends and colleagues! Share what is working (and what isn't). Just try not to do it during your faculty meeting!