Cell Phone Ban in Classrooms

So, the government of Ontario has decided on a cell phone ban in classrooms for the upcoming school year. I am going to try to keep this short. I have not done any academic research on the implications of cell phone usage in classrooms. Nor am I an expert in child psychology. I am simply going off of my experience in the classroom, as a teacher. And…I have never had any challenges with the dichotomy between students and cell phones in my classroom. Have I had issues? Yes, of course. But, I’ve also had issues with students and pencils. The cell phone is the most addictive vice in today’s society, so I can see why the vast majority of people would be fine with banning them from classrooms in an attempt to unknot the negative ties between social media communications and student learning. But a kid (and in some cases, an entire class of kids) having a cell phone in their pocket, on their desk, or even in their damn hand isn’t really the issue. The issue is classroom management and pedagogical delivery. Period. Allow me to briefly elaborate.

In most places, texting while driving is illegal. But a whole lot of people still do it. Now why would some people engage in an activity that has far more severe and immediate consequences than having or using a mere cell phone in school? There are three reasons why many people still text and drive. Firstly, because they have not experienced any negative ramifications from engaging in that practice. Secondly, they think they are able to do both at the same time with the same amount of…proficiency, let’s say. And thirdly, people text and drive because what is going on through their phone is more interesting than the road they have driven down every single day at the same time and with the same pace. Students use phones in class for the same three reasons: nothing negative really happens when they do (other than maybe getting their phone taken away), they feel like they are multitasking just fine, or their phone is more interesting than what is happening in their classroom. If we frame our reflections on the reasons why students use their cell phone in class, do you really think that banning cell phones is the answer to greater focus and higher achievement?

I told you I was going to keep this short so I will. Banning cell phones will not help shitty teachers, or dusty-ass classrooms, or dry curriculum. Banning cell phones will not increase teacher student relationships, student engagement, and achievement. Y’all think kids weren’t “zoning out” in class way before cell phones and instagram and snapchat and iMessage? Johnny ain’t picking up the material, nor is he engaging in that same class regardless of whether or not he has his cell phone with him. Banning cell phone issues will not fix our classrooms. Better teaching will. That has always been the answer. 

Right after the rules and code of conduct concerning student behaviour are punched out by various administrators and teachers in the grand “welcome back” assembly, and teachers are told to take their homeroom students back to their classrooms, I tell my students something very simple. I tell them one of the golden rules we all come to know in adulthood: the rule, or experience that you come to know is this – the way you talk, behave, and act amongst family, friends, and behind closed doors should be somewhat different than the way you conduct yourself in public. Translated into teacher speak, I say, “Y’all heard and understood everything that was said in that assembly? Is there anything that needs clarification. Good, now let me tell you this…there are school rules, and then there are classroom rules. Sometimes they are the same, other times, they actually contradict each other. If particular “expectations” in this classroom are different than the school ones, understand that once you leave this classroom, you must abide by the school rules.” Then students ask questions; questions about chewing gum or getting a drink without putting their hand up. Little, stupid nonsense that schools have been peddling for years. Things that never made sense to me in the first place. And then some student will ask about cell phones. So I give them my expectations. Not my rules, but my expectations…

“You want to listen to music while you are doing your independent work, that is fine, but ask first. You need to take a quick mental break and use your phone for a second instead of acting like you need to go to the bathroom, fine, but ask first. We ain’t doing IG Live, any snaps, or any messaging in class. And, of course, you can use your phone as a calculator during math.” Do I have the same amount of issues with students forgetting that they need to ask first before they use their cell phone as I have with kids asking for a pencil ten minutes into some work? Yes. But is cell phone use a challenge for me as a teacher? Nope.

But that’s just me. My opinions from my experience as an educator, an educator who is also on his phone, at times, during the school day. A guy who doesn’t see cell phones getting in the way of good teaching. A man who embraces culture and progression and social media for the positive benefits it can provide, when used correctly. I know that doesn’t work for everyone. But the fact that it doesn’t tells us more about our system than it does about the student and the cell phone. In my opinion, we are dialling back on the wrong thing. Sorry for not keeping it short, I was a bit distracted…




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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

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