“How to Stop Cell Phone Use in the Classroom,” by Lita Kurth

Sep 9th, 2015 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

First, put your cell phone policy on the syllabus: “No cell phone use in class.” Before printing, debate whether or not to add “please.” These are adults. Would you want to be commanded? Add “please.” But they should know you mean business. Delete “please.” Put it in. Take it out.

Second, announce your policy. Modern life pulls us this way, that way, yes, it does, but multitasking is really a euphemism for lack of focus and priorities. The classroom should be sacred, a refuge from the demanding world. You understand, certainly, that, on rare occasions, a cell phone may go off. By accident. No big deal. But mostly we are here for a serious purpose: your intellectual development.

You stand in front of the class. You hold the chalk. You have the password to the computer. And even with baby burp on your black sweater and blue tights that looked black in the morning light, even with your hair home-dyed to a color between carrot and plum, you have authority. This is known as the ethos of position. You own the gradebook. Your keys unlock the classroom. Ergo, you control cell phone use.

You hear no cell phones in the classroom. This is not a triumph. You see cell phones on desks where an essay or handout should be, on top of an essay or handout. Walk up to a desk; ask the student to put the cell phone away.

The student slides the cell phone into a pocket or slips it under a paper, readily available. Request that the cell phone be put in a backpack. Watch the student, reluctantly, under your gaze, put the cell phone in a backpack. Request that the backpack be zipped. You are now an autocrat. The classroom should be a laboratory for democracy. Why can’t the classroom be a democracy? Cell phones. That’s why.

Two weeks pass; your classroom is an airport lobby, the kind with charging stations. Each electrical outlet is stuffed with cell phone cords. This is okay. A cell phone attached to the wall is a cell phone not in use. With all they pay, students are entitled to free electricity.

Three weeks pass. Announce at the beginning of the hour, “Okay, time to put those electronics away.” Get your cell phone out of your purse. Demonstrate to the class that it is off. Tell how you survived for decades without a cell phone. Five minutes later, walk around the room. See six cell phones in use.

Threaten. After three occasions of cell phone use, students will be dropped. Walk around the room to observe group work. See six cell phones in use. Request the cell phone of a student and put it up on the teacher’s desk. You are now teaching middle school.

Next day that student is missing. Agonize. Is it because of public humiliation? Mentally compose an email of apology. Debate whether to send it. Run out of time.

The next day, that student returns –smiling, friendly. She was celebrating the Giants’ victory.

Week seven. You have had it. A football player has his cell out every day. “Gotta have my cell,” he says.

You seethe. You are hopping mad. You walk over to him and shout, “I’ve had it with your cell phone use! You can just leave the classroom.”

The class is silent. The student stands up. He is very angry. He is very tall. To your surprise, he collects his materials and leaves, slamming the door. You are not sure what the class thinks. Possibly that you are an autocrat. Or crazy.

Next class period, the student is absent. Did you do the right thing? He was always so friendly. He worked well in groups, encouraging and supporting shyer, nerdy students.

Two days pass. The athlete returns. All the students watch as he walks up to your desk, a serious look on his face. You take a breath.

He puts out his hand and apologizes.

You accept his apology. Does he ever bring his cell phone out again? You can’t remember.

Summer vacation. You are pushing a shopping cart toward the SavMart entrance. An employee by the cart carrel wearing a SavMart golf-shirt greets you with joyful recognition. “How are you doing, Ms. K?” He hugs you. It is the football player.

Next quarter, try a new policy: ignore cell phones.

Or did you try that already?

The quarter after that, put your policy on the syllabus: “No cell phone use in class.”
Defenestration-Lita KurthLita Kurth is a much-published writer and teacher whose writing has earned upwards of $700 in prizes and payments, not counting her first cash prize of $15 from the Rex Rod and Gun Club. Also, Pushcart nomination, MFA, blah blah blah x blah blah blah.

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