Phone usage in classroom sparks discussion

As early as elementary school, phone usage in classrooms has become a common debate between students and teachers. They have become a vital and inextricable part of our world, so it is only natural we have in-depth discussions about them.

Considering all the different things I’ve seen and heard about phone usage in class, I wonder what the best plan moving forward is, from a student perspective.

There are a lot of generalized expectations for what students do on their phones (i.e. TikTok, texting, YouTube, etc.), and I understand why that is. Though these generalizations are not entirely wrong, they are not entirely true either. I, for one, don’t just watch TikTok or text my friends. If my chromebook died, for example, I would use my phone to graph a function, join a Kahoot, or read an assignment.

On the other hand, in some classes (not all), students are on their phones at all times. Therefore, it’s difficult to implement a rule that suits every class environment. I wonder if it should be something that students and teachers determine for their individual classes at the beginning of the year, sort of like the “Community Guidelines” I’ve seen.

Much of the behavior I have seen when it comes to phones is, frankly, abhorrent. I’ve seen students insult the teacher, hold their hand up to the teacher’s face, and outright refuse any requests to put the phone away.

It’s turned into a power struggle, which makes me consider whether the primary issue is the reactions students have or the phone usage itself. Regardless, I don’t condone this behavior at all, as this is a place where we’re supposed to learn, not be on our phones.

I’m curious about whether or not a crackdown on phones is making students defensive, but that’s not an excuse. It is imperative students demonstrate a level of responsibility and respect for authority figures.

As for what teachers have to say, I’m conflicted. A primary reason they don’t like phones in the classroom is because it detracts from student learning: “The desire to check the phone for a text, a like on a post, an Instagram story, etc…interrupts student focus on the lesson being taught in the classroom,” said Mike Stephen, an OPRF history teacher. A valid point, and I agree. Removing phones from the situation will likely help students stay more focused. That is, if students don’t refuse to give their devices away.

Katie Kralik, a chemistry teacher at OPRF, explained that habitual checking of notifications is especially harmful for teens, as our developing brains have higher difficulty breaking habits. In terms of responsibility, she said there is a time and a place to check your phone.

“The stronger students get at recognizing that they don’t need their phones every moment, the more able they will be to set the phone aside when (necessary),” she said. I completely agree, but this is where I get conflicted; as someone with anxiety, there is a part of me that is worried about emergencies and being unable to contact those close to me. Perhaps it is something for me to work on, or something to consider when making a decision.

We, students, are soon to enter a world where we won’t have many second chances, so we need to learn to be sensible with our phones. Learn to prioritize and consider what is most important at that moment, as Kralik said. Take into account what you will be missing. If maturity is demonstrated, it might amend the issues mentioned above and allow our teachers to have more faith in us so we won’t have to have increasingly strict rules.

Created during the 2018-2019 school year, the Cell Phone Committee at OPRF has done research to make informed decisions about phone usage in school. The committee consists of several teachers, counselors, social workers, and administrators at OPRF. Daniel Wolman, an OPRF history teacher, heads the committee. He said their goals are to “understand the culture around phones in the high school, and … to develop a common-sense, research-based approach with respect to the use of phones in the building throughout the school day.” Further, he explained that the committee is determined to not make OPRF a “phone-free” school, but they intend to implement guidelines that “distinguishes between the times of day when students are in class, and when they are not,” he said. He and the committee desire a schoolwide expectation about phones so it will cause less confusion and more consistency.

I like Wolman’s direction and reasoning, and I’m eager to see what they have in store. Though, I’m worried how students will react. As I mentioned previously, students may reject any guidelines set upon them, depending on what they are. I think a gradual introduction of the policies could be very beneficial, so not to put students on the defensive. When the time comes, I hope the committee will be open to constructive criticism and will be (reasonably) flexible about their guidelines.

Right now, I don’t believe either students or teachers are entirely in the right nor the wrong. Students must be more responsible, and teachers cannot rely on stereotypes. Both sides present sound arguments, so I ask that we use our ears and open our minds. With that said, I’ll always be open to new opinions and insights on this subject in order to have a solution that suits all parties involved.