― Saul Bellow, Seize the Day
As a high school teacher, cell phones are the enemy. I enjoy the hunt. Seriously, though…I love my phone, but I put it away while I’m teaching. As soon as class as over, I look forward to checking in to see if there’s anything new, just like my students.
I warn students on the first day of school. I don’t have very many rules, but keeping the cell phone put away from bell to bell is pretty much the one I enforce. I warn them—it’s a power trip for me to take their phone away. I go into the philosophy behind my rule—I want them to learn, and value the people around them. There’s less and less face to face interaction, and my class is a place that I want to encourage social etiquette. Still, it happens almost every day. Sometimes I sneak up on my prey, and take the phone away, and other times I make a run for it, being loud and obnoxious but, almost every time, there’s a sense of surprise on the student’s face when I reach in for it.
Today was an interesting score. It was a girl using the purse block technique. Her purse was on top of the desk, as a shield, with the phone propped inside or behind it. She willingly handed over the phone. The school rule is that I turn it into the office. If it’s the first time in my class, though, I ignore the school rule and keep it for the duration of the day. It was her first offense all year, so I told her she could have it back at the end of the day. Of course there was an excuse and a protest, but I ignored her. At the end of each period we have a tutorial built in to help students who are not passing, or need help. She stayed back and mumbled about why she needed her phone. I took pity, and told her she could have the phone after the bell rang, briefly, to retrieve her mom’s cell phone number or shoot a quick text. She stood, frozen, at my desk for the next ten minutes. It was weird. I told her to go sit down and relax, but she couldn’t. The girl was having a melt down without her phone.
There have been some studies done recently among college students. They asked students to give up their cell phones for 24 hours and log their feelings. Many students recorded feelings of panic and loss. Many spoke of having anxiety and twitching, even, similar to a caffeine or drug addiction. Today I saw this behavior in my student.
I worry about this generation. Their phones seem to hold the answers to almost everything they need. The phone validates their existence, and Google seems to hold the answer to any question that comes up. It’s pretty cool that we can find the answers to so many questions, but sometimes questions don’t have an answer, or there are several solutions aside from the one that comes up on the Internet. My student couldn’t figure out what to do about not being able to contact her mom, or so she said. I gave her a couple of suggestions—write the number down and use a friend’s phone, text from a friend’s phone, or go to the office and call her mom. Nothing was acceptable except taking back her phone.
I made her live without it for the rest of the day. I’m sure there was something more to the freak out. I’ve found some interesting things on my cell phone acquisitions; accidentally hitting buttons can expose things. I do not search their phones for this reason. I’m not out to get them. I’d rather respect my student’s space. Still, I’m concerned that kids are losing the ability to function face to face. Almost everything can be done through planned communication. What’s happening to organic, spontaneous conversation? I’m sure that my parents were worried about what the computer could mean, and their parents worried about the television.
Regardless, I’m still going to try to push my students to be present in the moment, rather than in two places at once.