Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Teachers can't compete with smartphones

I admit it. For all the trying in the world, I still can't compete with a smartphone. And although a very technologically oriented person myself, I'm all for banning them entirely from my classroom.

I mean, I have a small love affair with my iPhone. I even have a smartwatch, for Pete's sake. I get it. I used to not bring the phone to class, ever. Then, I started bringing it to class since I thought I might be able to make a bigger impact by modelling for students that I can control when I look at it. When it sends me a notification and I'm in the middle of something, I can continue teaching or helping a student or the conversation I am having. Students interrupt and urgently say, "Ms. Barz, you got a message!" or,  "your phone just went off; shouldn't you check that?"

No, no, no, no and no.

These "no" statements are how I feel when I interact with students who are distracted - scratch that, rather, controlled - by cell phones. It's all NEGATIVE. In fact, with a handful of students, I can count on one hand how many times I've had a positive interaction with them in almost 90 school days this semester. And yet multiple times everyday, I ask them to put away their phones and get insolence, a snarky response, a lie ("it's my Mom," or "I'm not even on it!" or "I'm just checking the time, geez" or "I'm just changing the song.") or even a profanity for me having the gall to ask them to do what their supposed to be doing in class.

I thought I could try some humour to help the issue starting this past fall. My classroom door has had this sign on it for the entire school year:

It didn't work. Pretty sure that the students didn't even notice it. And, honestly, I do find phones a useful tool in a classroom when used for only the task at hand. In some classes, they are regularly used since computer labs and the change to newer technology has necessitated the move to support student and staff Bring-Your-Own-IT initiatives.

So, this semester, I started with a bin for cell phones with the label below.

That didn't last, either. I asked students to put them in the bin when they walked into class. Simple solution, right? Not so much.

Then I actually started to walk around the class with the bin and to prompt every student to put their phone in the bin, again prompting a negative interaction with nearly every student to start the day. Unfortunately, it also singled out the few kids who don't have phones, too, which added to the negativity as a whole. So I crossed that strategy off my list.

A suggestion that has come up several times is having a three strike rule. Given that many classes have 25 students in them, that would mean 75 reminders or negative interactions. To put the potential severity of this into perspective, this could mean that I would have one negative interaction for EVERY MINUTE of class, as 75 minute classes are the norm in Ontario. In short, I could basically do nothing but desperately plead with kids to put their phones away for the entire period and spend no time at all actually teaching to the curriculum, EQAO standardized testing or anything of any conceivable value. This seems woefully wasteful of both their time and mine.

Negativity goes against everything I stand for as a person and that I hope to encourage as a classroom teacher. My simple goal is to have a positive interaction with every student every day. After all, the research says that even a 20 minute conversation can make an impact with a student, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time. Those 20 minute conversations grow out of trust and positivity; I'm convinced of it.

Ask most people who know me well and they will say I'm definitely on the glass-half-full side of life...bordering on full-out, relentless positivity. So, I don't want to be the person who has to start my class three times each day with a negative interaction with almost every student. I do want students to be able to mature and grow into people who can focus when necessary and who can use phones at appropriate times that are agreed upon in our class. And, I do want the classroom to be as positive as possible. We're not perfect in this education system...but we can be better.

Any and all positive solutions welcome from all integral parts of the education trifecta - parents, students and school staff.