Love & Hate: Cell Phones In The Classroom

“Someone look it up on their phone!” I holler while scribbling some notes on the dry-erase board. We are really getting somewhere now, and a quick denotative understanding of this 19th century word is necessary. Thank goodness they have their smart phones, I think. Not only do we get exact answers and definitions on the spot in class, but also I feel less of a burden to know the definition of every single world in the world.

Then, there’s a day when you might find me huffing out to a class, “Okay, guys, get off your phones. You think I can’t tell you’re texting under your desk?! Well, I can, and it’s completely rude.” It drives me crazy when I’m trying to explain some layered concept and I can see their knuckles bouncing about like piano keys, not to mention their eyes glued to their laps, rather than the visual aid I spent an hour working on. Inevitably, when they’re done with their post or text or email, and they decide to look up and tune in, they have no idea what I’m talking about. They expect me to repeat myself. And the pathetic thing is I do, even though I’m beyond annoyed. So, this is why I call my relationship to smart phones in the classroom a “love and hate” one.

I’ll admit, I don’t lay out tough rules or consequences for phone use. I guess the only consequence they face is dealing with my annoyed face. Then, on the other hand, when someone finds the exact year of some event faster than everyone else, he/she is quickly rewarded. Am I like a bad parent? One of those parents that laughs when her kid says a hilarious joke with a cuss word, but then shouts at the kid when he spits out, “shit!” after he’s dropped a glob of jelly on the floor? I know I can’t have my cake and eat it too. Perhaps I should ban any cell phone use in the classroom. But, then we would miss out on our spontaneous quiz show moments that seem to enliven the entire room so quickly. They must think I’m crazy, I always think.

However, if I do ban cell phones from my classrooms, while the world out side the room is cell phone obsessed, what type of cell phone finesse would I be teaching them? The fact of the matter is, today, in professional settings, employees do rely on their phones heavily. My boss might even text me if she’s in a hurry to reach me.

I might need to check my calendar for a deadline, my contacts for an email address, my dictionary for a definition. All of these tasks were considered completely acceptable to perform in an academic or professional setting during the pre-smart phone era. The only difference is, we used to open our daily planners or pocket dictionaries. By banning cell phones from the class could also be barring my students from being able to access these helpful organizational and informative tools.

On a planet where phones are as attached to our beings as our minds are, I feel that it’s okay to have this kind of cell phone insanity in my classroom. I know their minds wander as much as their finger tips during class which also can bring about rewards like critical thought or nuisances like totally zoning out. It’s my job to help them develop their critical thinking skills. I hope this higher order thinking ability will translate to their cell phone usage. I figure that by reading my reactionary feedback they can naturally learn when cell phone use is appropriate and when it’s not—essentially some old fashioned good cell phone etiquette is.

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