Help Wanted: A Winning Cell Phone Policy in the Classroom

Teachers: What is your classroom cell phone policy?

I ask as someone who has come to know the squared shoulders, elbows out signature pose of someone secretly texting under his desk.

I ask as someone who knows teens well enough to know that confrontational administration of any policy erodes a classroom culture. “Because I said so” does not fly with 21st century teens.

I ask as someone who knows that cell phone addiction is a real thing. 

I ask as someone who just finished a personal, self-imposed one-week no cell phone stint.

I ask as someone who literally dreamed of texts and emails during that week.

I ask as someone who knows that the cell phone’s capabilities are as amazing as any invention in our lifetime.

I ask as someone who knows that the cell phone also destroys our ability to have deep conversations with the people that we are actually with.

I ask as someone who is fortunate to have a supportive administration that will back up my classroom policy.

There’s the right policy, and the right way to deliver the policy to our students.

I am looking for both.





2 thoughts on “Help Wanted: A Winning Cell Phone Policy in the Classroom

  1. Cellphones are a major struggle for me to. I don’t know that I have it figured out. In fact, I’m procrastinating finalizing my syllabi because I hate doing the classroom behavior portion of the syllabus. I have the following feelings on cell phones that somewhat inform my classroom policy.
    1. Students who choose to use cell phones in class are choosing to put their own academic achievement in jeopardy. My students typically are not disrupting class or using their cell phones to distract the learning of others.
    2. Most professions that students aspire to involve the use of cell phones to some extent. The classroom is a great place to learn the boundaries when it comes to using their phone. There are a great number of appropriate uses for smart phones in class that can enhance the learning experience.
    3. Cell phones, and technology in general, is a barrier to real, meaningful communication and meaningful relationships. Social media, especially for the 14-18 year old, offers the illusion of relationship. Most students (and probably most of the public) do not have the maturity to use social media to enhance existing relationships.
    4. My time as a teacher is better spent teaching my content, relating to students, and engaging students in meaningful discourse than policing a classroom of 35 cell phones.

    So, last year my cell phone policy allowed student to have their cell phones out on their desks provided they were silenced. They could use them to check the time (no classroom clock) or check their notifications as long as they weren’t then responding to those notifications or engaging in cell phone use in class. When granted permission to do so, students could use their phones to enhance their learning. I shared with them a list of apps and mobile websites that were appropriate for the particular subject matter. Students found violating the rules or the spirit of the rules or who could not keep from distracting others with their phones lost the privilege. Students who continually violated these rules had their cell phones confiscated and held in accordance with school policy. I teach in a cohort for my freshmen classes. Other teachers in my cohort adopted a similar policy so the expectations and consequences were uniform across the students’ core content classes.

    For the most part, the policy kept blatant cell phone use in check but also allowed students to use their phones to aid their learning. Of course it is impossible to police what every student is doing on their phone with such a policy but non-compliant students usually stick out like a sore thumb when most of the class is adhering to the rules. As can be expected, my AP classes had very few issues. Students in these classes were for the most part grateful to be able to use Google Classroom, Quizlet and other apps in class to help them with the advanced content. The lower performing classes were more of a struggle but most students at least toed the line and kept their phone use appropriate.


  2. The first thing you must address is the fact that you are attempting to solve a problem that does not exist. The cell phone in the classroom is not the problem. Like a computer the cell phone is a vehicle for information. A kid is not attached to any one cell phone. Give the kids a Samsung or Apple or one that is 1 year old of 5. The problem will still exist.

    The problem that you must address is drug addiction. See like you, me, and your students the cell phone is the vehicle for that drug addiction. That drug being Dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that is released in our brains that give us pleasure. Like sugar when we eat it, dopamine is released telling use this is good and since we liked that feeling we taught ourselves that if we want to feel good, then we must eat more sugar. We get addicted. This is also why most foods we buy are loaded with sugar. Companies are trying to capitalize on that addiction.

    So back to the phone. Everyone loves to get attention it makes them feel loved and wanted, which gives them pleasure especially for those attention hungry kids. This is the reason student must constantly check it they have taught themselves that when they check their phone they get pleasure. They, like yourself cannot biologically stop checking your phone. Just like you can’t stop eating sugar or for rare cases like Joe’s Kabobs and Sangrita. Just like a drug addicts can’t stop obtaining their fix no matter how bad they want to.

    Don’t believe me? First to watch a video on drug addiction where the person is sobering up. Then In class have every student put their phones in their bag. Not their pocket. Their bag. Then simply sit for 5 minutes. DO NOTHING. You will see your kids make all kind of movements, itching to see what the next text, picture, or email they receive. Just like a drug addict would coming down from their high. Then before they are allowed to check their phones have them right about it and watch how fast they right it.

    What’s my policy? First stop fighting the cell phone and start fighting the drug addiction. What I do is have all my students place their phones on the top right corner of their desk. Facing up. This allows them to see the messages coming through. Their small fix. Then I instruct them that if anyone touches the phone there will be consciences. Then I tell them that if no one touches their phones for 15 minutes or the next class transition. I will allow you to respond to all messages for 2 minutes. Then they will go back to the desk.

    The first time someone touches the phone. I stop the class, have that student come up front and give the instructions to the class. I am sorry for this but every student must flip their phones face down. I learned a long time ago that students are not afraid of teachers. We honestly have no power but they are afraid of their peers. So I use peer pressure to police my classrooms. Make the class miserable and tell them why and they will take care of the problem themselves. I always tell the class. Just because I have to teach you something does not mean I have to make it fun.

    Then in 30 minutes they are allowed to check the phone again, but the rest of class it is face down. The second time it happens. I march the one responsible in from of class and have them say “I am sorry but you must put your phone in your pocket.” In 30 minutes again they may check. The third time the phones go in the book bag and they don’t get to check again. Then we start fresh the next day.
    It’s weird at first but after a couple of days the issue won’t be a problem.

    “In order to solve a problem you must first find the source of it.“


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