It is evident that our school system, like every school system, has its flaws. Some of these issues, such as employee’s salaries and the code of conduct, have rightfully been brought to the public’s attention over the past 6 months. There are no “easy fixes” for issues like these, as we have all witnessed via board meetings that deservingly last for hours. That said, as a teacher with JCPS, there is one “easy fix” that will solve a multitude of problems.
Ban cell phones. It’s simple. As a teacher at a school that encourages the use of cell phones for research in the classroom, it is evident that they cause more harm than good. It is flat-out impossible for one teacher to monitor 25+ students’ actions on a cell phone. I understand that one cannot simply make a “blanket statement” like the one above, but that arguments must surely be justified with solid evidence.
I have experienced the pros and cons of a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) school first-hand, but my argument is not simply for our local community. Rather, it is an international issue. On June 15, 2015, The Boston Globe’s Linda Matchan wrote “a study released in May by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics looked at 91 schools in four cities in England, where more than 90 percent of teenagers own a mobile phone. The study found that test scores were 6.41 percent higher at schools where cellphone use is prohibited.” In a district that unfortunately places so much emphasis on standardized testing, this should be a no-brainer. Get rid of the cell phones and see an increase in test scores. Furthermore, “the researchers concluded that mobile phones ‘can have a negative impact on productivity through distraction,’ particularly among low-achieving students, who benefitted most from the ban, with achievement gains of 14.23 percent.” If we, as JCPS, are truly trying to raise students’ test scores who are novice and apprentice to the proficient and distinguished level, then we are making it more difficult on ourselves. Ban cell phones and see a decrease in the novice and apprentice range and an increase in the proficient and distinguished categories. The numbers are there, and numbers don’t lie.
Personally, I must admit that there are pros to students having cell phones in the classroom. These include instant access to research, an easier ability for parent/student contact, the ability for students to listen to music as they work, and the ever-so-misguiding label of being a “technology friendly” school.
That said, the cons far outweigh the pros. As stated above, the main issue is monitoring. I may be able to ensure a student is researching a topic by using proximity control as I pass by their desk, but after I pass, I cannot control if that student then logs onto SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, or any other social media platform.
My second concern is maintaining students’ attention while teaching. I adopted a new policy in my classroom this past year that was somewhat successful. Upon entering the classroom, students put their phones in a box on my desk. Yes, I put my phone in as well. Then, when it came time for students to work on their assignment, I would allow them to retrieve their phones for research and music. However, the majority of students would continuously use them for the wrong purpose. Sure, I could write a referral, but we’re supposed to be cutting down on those, right? We’re fighting a losing battle, and it’s frustrating.
My third issue revolves around cell phones being used to plan fights. This has been an increasingly dangerous problem that has continued to escalate in JCPS schools over the past few years. Students will trash talk one another via texting or social media, then plan to fight during lunch, in a stairwell, or in another teacher’s class. Then, when they do fight, it is more difficult for administration or security to get to the altercation because, you guessed it, dozens of other students are recording the fight on their phone.
And whatever you do, do not try to take a student’s phone. That is simply dangerous. Here are a few examples if you need further evidence:
My last concern involves not all students being able to afford cell phones. If you have an activity that requires a cell phone and a student cannot afford it, the student almost feels as though they are being called out. I’ve seen the look in their eyes. It’s the “please don’t call me out for not having a phone” look. It’s a stigma that is out of their control, and that is not their fault.
We are the people on the front lines, the people who face these obstacles every day, and the people raising our future. The teaching world is already full of infinite obstacles. I have to teach a student who slept on broken glass last night. I have to teach Algebra 2 to a student who is on a second grade reading level. I have to teach a student who lost their brother to gang violence over the weekend. Many of these obstacles are unfortunately out of our control.
That said, our teaching world is also full of obstacles that we can control. Obstacles such as proposals for pay freezes and a relaxed code of conduct. Obstacles like JCPS putting off the vote on the code of conduct until the summer, when teachers are more likely to be vacationing with their families than protesting for their livelihood. Obstacles like JCPS’ own Chief Business Officer Tom Hudson (who makes $176,000 a year) publicly stating “what I don’t understand is why the community hasn’t been outraged that we’ve paid these people (teachers) this much money over the years.” Obstacles like cell phones.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. What I will do is encourage other JCPS teachers, administrators, and parents to share their stories about the pros and cons of cell phones in school. That said, the evidence is clear. If JCPS wants increased test scores and decreased disciplinary issues, it’s time to ban cell phones.