Thursday, September 25, 2014

Neanderthals Dominate School Policy in 5775

First of all, Happy New Year to all blog readers (and don't forget to write 5775 on your checks starting today).  Let's get right to the deplorable state of affairs in our schools. After 12 years of unending reforminess, we finally have a mayor who shows signs of not being insane. And yet, we still have the cell phone ban that has had us shaking our heads since its inception.

In my school we don't scan all who enter, and a lot of us are grateful for that. My feeling is the less schools resemble prisons, the better we'll do. Of course we haven't been able to stop the imposition of Common Core, or its untested and baseless mandates, but it's one nation under Gates after all. But I've got a teenager at home, and I know well that teenagers without cell phones in 5775 are not happy. I believe in the happiness of teenagers, so I don't go out of my way to enforce crazy rules.

If kids don't bother me with their phones, I don't bother them. I generally ask them to keep the phones out of sight. Sometimes kids use them as translators, and sometimes I look the other way when they do that. More often they keep them cleverly hidden under the desks and assume I won't notice. I'm sure that sometimes I don't, but when I do I make them put them away. I hate seeing kids texting in class, but I guess it's the equivalent of passing notes, something I did in school back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

It takes a lot for me to actually confiscate a phone. One time, a boy's phone rang, and he answered it in a foreign language. That was brazen. He not only used his phone in my classroom, but concurrently managed to violate my cardinal rule that we speak English in English class. That boy's Mommy had to come to school on Friday and pick up the phone. He had to navigate the world for several days without it, an unimaginable task for a modern teenager.

Another time a student determined it was a good idea to use his phone to play music in the trailer bathroom. I don't know exactly what inspired that thought, but the class and I sat incredulous as he did it. The boy deemed it hilarious until he found his phone would sit in the dean's office until Mommy rescued it on Friday.

I was covering someone's class once. I politely asked a boy to put away his iPod touch. Remember them? He complied, then took it out again. After the third time he defied me, I called a dean and had his device confiscated. When I went down to the dean to check on what happened, the boy's mom found me, and was apoplectic. She screamed that it was his "enjoyment," and demanded that her son never be in my class. Though her son would never be in an ESL class anyway, I silently agreed with her, as I didn't particularly want him in my class either.

The notion of benign neglect toward cell phones is a reasonable one. While don't ask don't tell didn't serve the military well, it's probably the best current approach toward phones. A more reasonable approach would be to have students simply keep their phones concealed and silent during class. That's my approach, with a few exceptions. The first day of class I usually ask kids for their phone numbers. It saves me the trouble of looking them up on the computer, and often gets me more current numbers than the computer carries. It also tells me a lot about the student who deliberately gives me a phony number, or her own phone number.

But one of the side effects of the ubiquitousness of cell phones is that many of us don't know our family phone numbers any more. If I don't let kids look up numbers on their phones, I'll probably never see them at all.
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