Friday, January 09, 2015

Unbanning the Ubiquitous Phone

Some people I like and respect are upset about Mayor de Blasio following through on his promise to end the phone ban. I have never been in favor of the phone ban. It's 2014, I have a phone, and I don't remember exactly when I gave my kid one, but she carried it for years in school. When I found out she was using it in class I turned off her internet access and paid T-Mobile five bucks a month to restrict her usage during school hours. For a few years she was only able to communicate with me and her mom during school hours.

But she's my kid, and I wanted to be able to communicate with her in case of an emergency. Calling a school office and hoping for the best, considering decades of failing to get messages in school buildings, didn't seem a great option.

I realize that not every parent is as cruel and heartless as I am. One reason is that I regularly see kids take out their phones and use them. If I didn't stop them they'd probably do it all the time. On the other hand, I do stop them. My eyes are now attuned to kids with their hands under their desks, which more often than not indicates phone use. Mostly, it just takes a look and the phone goes back in a bag.

But there's no putting every phone in a bag. I know that there's been a business boom in scanning schools, with trucks and bodegas charging kids a buck a day for phone storage. I wouldn't want to pay twenty bucks a month so my kid could store her phone, and I wouldn't want my students, who don't have a whole lot of money, to have to pay that.

Phones in class are a nuisance, particularly with some determined kids, but it's part of the job. They just aren't going away. It's my job to deal with it. Sometimes I deal with it better than other times. Certain kids just slide back. If they didn't have phones they'd have other distractions, and I'd have to deal with them instead.

The cardinal rule in my ESL classes is that we speak only English. Most of my kids speak the same language, so that's a very, very difficult rule to enforce. I spend a whole lot more energy and time reinforcing that than dealing with phones. Imagine if you were in, say, Korea with twenty-five Americans and some lunatic told you you could speak only Korean. That's pretty much how my kids view me. But if I can enforce an all-English policy, I can enforce a phone ban.

I don't like to confiscate phones, and I've done so on only a handful of occasions. I don't allow kids to talk on the phone, ever. On one occasion, a student's phone rang, he picked it up, and he began to speak in a foreign language. This grieved me deeply. His mommy had to come to the school and pick it up at the end of the week. Another time a kid took his phone to the trailer bathroom and played music with it. He spent some time phoneless too.

Once I was subbing for an absent AP. Back then the iPod touch was a luxury item. I politely told a young man to put his away three times. On the fourth time I had a dean come and confiscate it. When I went to the dean's office to write it up the boy's mom was there. She screamed at me. She said it was his "enjoyment," and said she hoped he was never in my class. I offered no argument.

The phones are a pain in the neck, but that's only because our kids are a pain in the neck. It's their job to test us, and it's our job to deal with it. I'll be at work in a few hours, and that's exactly what I'm gonna do. Bloomberg's no phone rule was always ridiculous. Bloomberg was full of himself, and may has well have passed a regulation prohibiting snow.

Of course, he didn't need to worry about snow, what with his private aircraft taking him to the Bahamas weekends. He didn't need to worry about schoolchildren or their parents communicating with one another in an emergency because he didn't worry about us either.

Personally, I'm glad the ban is gone. If only we could get rid of more stupid Bloomberg rules, we and our kids would all be better off. You'll pry my iPhone from my cold, dead hands, and I won't deprive my kids of something that's become indispensable to me.
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