3A2 – Cell phones: The bane of a teacher’s existence or a new tool to take advantage of?


As teachers, we are all dealing with the issue of cell phones in our classrooms.  The question is: do we (try) to ban them or do we find a way to utilize them?

Thankfully, about 3 years ago our new principal (who is a big proponent of technology) changed the school policy to allow cell phones to come out of hiding.  She allows teachers to make their own decisions about their classroom but allows students to use them in the commons areas.  I say thankfully because I had been allowing them in my class for a while by then!  I told my students – “Shhhh!!  Don’t tell anyone!”  That may have been why I didn’t have too many problems!  I like to think that it was because I didn’t make a big deal out of it and they quickly got over the novelty of it.    Dean Shareski, in his blog post,  seems to agree with me.

Having had this conversation with many colleagues, I’ve finally figured out that the ones who have the most problems with cell phone use are the ones who insist on the strictest “no phones” policies.  Now I’m not saying that it should be a “use it whenever you want” policy but somewhere in the middle.  Set up a set of expectations for their use which includes: how (information you need but can’t through the filter?, look a quick question?, listen to music while working individually?, and when (NOT during instructional time unless asked to, during quiet work time, during collaboration with classmates) and what (no, you can’t check Facebook, Snapchat, etc, no, you can’t text your friend about plans that night, yes, you may listen to music with your earbuds!).  Give the students parameters and then trust them to make the right choice.  Of course some are still going to choose not to live up to the expectations and in that case there need to be consequences in place.  I have found the worst consequence I can give a student who chooses to use their phone unwisely in class was to take the phone (with parent permission) for the rest of the day.  Trust me….it hurts them more than it hurts us!

Bottom line: cell phones are mobile learning devices.  We need to utilize them as one more tool to keep students engaged because let’s face it, we can fight them and take away valuable instruction time or we can harness the tools our students use in their everyday lives!

What are your thoughts on cell phones in YOUR class?  Are they the bane of your existence or the new tool in your instructional arsenal?




12 thoughts on “3A2 – Cell phones: The bane of a teacher’s existence or a new tool to take advantage of?

  1. Hi, Chris,
    As a middle school, we have a BYOD policy, yet many teachers utter the same words, they do not want to see the devices unless students are told they can have them. There are times when I do encourage students to use them as a formative assessment. It can be difficult sometimes telling students you can only have them when I tell you. I want them to bring them to class every day! I may decide to do something on the spot. When students have their devices, we can explore more topics instantaneously!

    A pet peeve of mine is when teachers tell students they are not allowed to have their electronic devices, yet the teacher stands in the hallway playing on his or her phone. I know that we are the adults, and some would say we have “earned” the right to use our devices in front of students. I personally feel like we are not modeling what we expect students to be doing. If they should not have their devices available, I should not have mine out either.

    All of this to say that I am on board with using smart devices in the classroom for instructional purposes. 🙂



  2. Hi Shawn –

    That’s the same way I always felt about teacher / student modeling. It used to drive me crazy when students were not allowed to chew gum and the teachers would stand in front of them chewing their own gum and yell at the students to spit out theirs. I feel like the cell phone is the say way!



  3. I teach 4th and 5th graders and the elementary policy is no outside electronics are allowed. Our school provides iPads for each grade to use. If they have a cell phone, it stays in their backpack. The middle and high school are BYOD (laptops). Students can also have cell phones and can use them if necessary but I don’t think they allow widespread use. The high school can use their phones openly but appropriately. I can text my daughter who is a senior and she will respond immediately or within a few minutes. I have 4th graders with cell phones so the use of these items starts young. Again, we students are not allowed to use them at the elementary level. I feel that as students mature, so does their cell phone use (for most students). By the time they reach high school, they should have some sense of what is appropriate and what isn’t. I realize this isn’t always the case. I know at our school, they seem to trust the high school students a little more than the middle schoolers. I think it all depends on your school policy and what works best in your classroom.


  4. Chris,
    I love your notion that when allowing the use of cell phones we need to find a middle ground. I think all teachers can agree that when we take something away from our students completely, then they in turn want it even more. I teach 2nd grade and our elementary school has a no electronics policy in place so this really isn’t something that I have to deal with on a daily basis. If I were to deal with it, I think I would in the same way that it seems you are. I think it’s great that you allow your students to use phones appropriately and that you trust them to use them in appropriate ways. You are right that some will still push the limits and use them incorrectly, but by giving them consequences to those actions you are helping to instill a sense of responsibility in them. Our society and our students’ education is certainly moving towards using more technology than not so why try to take something away from them that when used correctly can be so beneficial to them?


  5. Chris,
    I love that your school is embracing cell phones, because unfortunately I think fighting them is just a losing battle. Yes cell phones can be used for calling, texting, snap-chatting but there is so much more functionality now that pretty much everyone has a smartphone. There are note taking apps that students can download and use, there are calendars for keeping track of assignment due dates, and lots of other really cool apps that we can certainly utilize for educational purposes. Cell phones can also be a quick communication tool for you as a teacher. Most students probably have their school email accounts on their phones, if you need to send out a quick reminder to your students about something they need to bring to class, then you can easily notify them. So I say embrace them, and get creative with using them in the classroom, but certainly there should be repercussions for those that abuse the privilege.

    But those that are uncertain about using them, I can certainly understand. I still recall my my third week of student teaching. A student was using their cell phone, and the school had a no cell phone policy. So I nicely asked the student to give me the phone and I would give it back after class. The student looked at me, and proceeded to put the phone down his pants. He certainly went straight to the principals office 🙂


    • Wow! I’ve had a student get really mad at me but never tried to stick it down the pants! Thankfully, parents are very supportive when it comes to consequences so I rareyly have to take it outside my class. A phone call home usually takes care of the problem since I get the parents to agree for me to keep the phone for a full day at school!


    • Things like this were happening in my district as well. Now the policy states that we are not allowed to take the cell phone away. It does take away a bit of leverage–especially for those teachers who are sticklers about no cell phones.


  6. Chris,

    You bring up a lot of great points especially regarding a “middle ground” when it comes to cell phones. The majority of our students have them, so we might as well try to take advantage of educational resources that allow students to use them. In my classroom I encourage students (especially those who are easily distracted and influenced by others) to listen to music with headphones while they work and use their device to look up information they are struggling to find or are curious about. As long as you have clear guidelines in place about when cell phone use is acceptable, they can be a very valuable tool.



  7. Chris,
    You make some really good points with allowing cell phones in the classroom. From my experience as being a high school teacher, I have found that it is extremely hard to find a middle ground with cell phones. I have tried everything in from being really strict to being more lenient. Students struggle with using them just ‘for educational purposes.’ This is a hot topic in our school with what the guidelines for cell phones should be. Currently, students are allowed to use them during lunch and in between classes only. In the classroom, it’s the teacher’s discretion as long as it’s educational.


  8. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” seems to be the general consensus although in a more proactive way! By that I mean that most of us aren’t throwing our hands in defeat and saying “fine” you can use your phones in class however you want! Instead we all seem to realize the “just in time” benefits of allowing our students to use their phones for educational purposes.

    Some schools are still stuck in the mindset that phones are “bad”! The question then is how do we, who can see the benefits, start to change their minds? What can we as educators do to show administrators that they do have a purpose in the classroom. One of our bloggers talks about how her district allows a little more access at each of the school levels hoping that by the time they make to the high school they will be able to show more responsibility in their use of phones in school. Do you think is a viable choice to get the ball rolling? Or is it beyond that already?

    Bottom line, cell phones are here to stay (whether they are hand held (or someday implanted?) so we need to find a way to use them just like we would any other tool!


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