Teacher Survey Reveals Growing Issues with Cell Phones in Classes
By Emily Ram, Senior Writer
While cell phones were allowed to be brought into buildings because of parents' safety concerns, teachers like Ms. Beckhardt are struggling with the day to day management of students using their phones during their classes.
In March, Ms. Beckhardt had an issue with one of her Art students being on the cell phone in her class. School policy is that teachers ask a student to put away their cell phone a first time and call a dean for any issue afterwards. Ms. Beckhardt had this student suspended for constant use of the phone.
She thought a suspension was make the problem better, but it had no effect on the student. The day before her suspension was to begin, the student showed up to Ms. Beckhardt's class and asked to get a drink of water. Ms. Beckhardt got suspicious after the student had not returned after a few moments. Ms. Beckhardt looked outside and couldn't believe what she saw.
"There she is, running the water on the fountain with her head lowered and talking on the phone at the same time!" Ms. Beckhardt was incredulous. "Even the fact that she received a suspension did not stop her from using her cell phone. What are we going to do?"
Ms. Beckhardt's story is one that is becoming all too common among teachers in Hillcrest and possibly around New York City. A recent survey involving 35 Hillcrest High School staff members shows that the recent rule change of having cell phones in the building has had a negative effect on classroom management and student performance.
Over 77% of those surveyed state that there are more negative incidents in their classrooms and over 70% claim that they have had one or more incidents involving students and cell phones in the classroom every period.
“Many of my students are less focused on class work and are not working to potential due to this major distraction!” quipped an anonymous responder to our survey. Teachers are often stopping their students several times during the period to reprimand them for using cell phones.
Nearly three-quarters of the staff believe there are more issues with cell phones as compared to when they were not allowed in the building.
Teachers are often stopping their students several times during the period to reprimand them for using cell phones. Teachers are having to stop 71.4% of their classes to tell a student to put the cell phone away once a period or more.
Many teachers in our survey cited the lack of maturity that comes with handling cell phones in class. Teachers feel that students do not have the self-control to limit their cell phone use.
"What students need is discretion. But from the ages of 14-18, it is nearly impossible to come by. Cell phones thwart self control, thinking, cognitive development, and, frankly, they are very addicting. How long will we continue to fool ourselves? They are a powerful tool, and with great power comes great responsibility. But, the way they are being used now---to text, look up answers and plan after school activities---it's simply irresponsible," said one teacher who filled out our survey.
The damage? Hillcrest's school-wide scholarship rate dipped by two percentage points from marking period 3, which ended pre-rule change, to this past marking period 5. Students were only passing 80.4% of classes in the 5th marking period as compared to 82.6% of classes in the 3rd marking period. The two points are roughly equal to around 200 more failing grades across the building.
Teachers were asked to cite their concerns about cell phones. Over 90% of teachers interviewed believed texting and students not paying attention to the lesson were the main issues. These concerns stem from their own fears over poor performance observations that now affect their own teaching licenses.
Teachers can receive poor ratings from their Assistant Principals if students are not paying attention to teaching because they are texting. One teacher cited a time they were written up on their observation report because a student was sitting in the class texting. The AP cited that the teacher needed to do a better job of engaging the student. "Hillcrest High School has deemed this a classroom management issue," said one upset teacher, "which means that it is on my shoulders to control these students because my job is on the line."
One Math teacher noted that because of students' distractions from cell phones that her scholarship, or passing, rate of her students had dropped since February. "It's crazy. I am constantly asking students to pay attention so they can pass because if not, then I have to meet with my Assistant Principal."
Teachers feel that students do not have the self-control to check messages they know they have received. An ELA teacher said it was "annoying to hear their text messaging beeps go off during daily Do-Nows." An anonymous teacher complained that "Students cannot concentrate when they have their cellphone in their bag and during the period they hear the vibrating buzz and are unable to check it." Another teacher believe that students become "anxious and find themselves unable to control the urge to check their phone during class."
About 20% of teachers do feel that there are no management issues in their class. Other teachers refuse to engage in a struggle with students over cell phones.
One major concern from teachers was about being filmed and having these items placed on the Internet. One teacher stated that he/she was concerned that students would "edit a film in such a way that [my] job can be jeopardized."
With badly-behaved teachers around the country losing their jobs for incidents involving students filming, many rule/law-abiding teachers are concerned that videos may be misrepresented to the public. "I've been told that students have secretly taken pictures of me and put it on Snapchat and I really don't like it. It's against my privacy -- since I can't film students misbehaving, then I don't want to be filmed even if it's in a joking way. Period."
Concerns over cell phone use didn't stop with teachers. One counselor who filled out our survey was concerned with issues of theft or bullying. Schools have had growing issues with students' use of social media to bully students and that was BEFORE the ban was lifted.
"As a counselor, I've had to deal with students whose pictures have been posted on social media without their permission and often times in a compromising position. It becomes a means of bullying, disrespect, and can snowball very quickly."
One teacher described a fight that broke out over a texting issue. In this classroom, two students argued about a text from a student in another school. This broke out into a shouting match in the classroom that the deans had to resolve.
There were some concerns teachers believe that were overlooked by the New York Department of Education. An issue some teachers pointed out while being interviewed was that of theft. One teacher in Hillcrest believes it was "short-sighted on the part of the DOE (as) it brought more theft into schools.” Students are bringing more expensive cellphones. If these cellphones get stolen, it becomes a huge problem and causes chaos within the school.
With students admitting to texting quite often in school, there needs to be more awareness towards students' issues with phones. According to our survey, it appears that there is more stress among teachers and counselors to deal with students' phones.
Phones as an Educational Tool?
On a positive note, nearly two-thirds of teachers who completed our survey do believe that cellphones can be used as an academic tool. Based on sources online, one of the good things about having cell phones is that they can be used as an academic tool.
When asked to list as many tools for cellphones that they have used in student learning, 41.7% of teachers said they have had students look up definitions of words and to research while 38.7% have had students take pictures of classwork or homework. Some teachers believe that these three major actions can be used as a positive learning experience for students in the classroom.
Some teachers let students listen to music in the classroom on their phones. One teacher emphasized that “I have permitted students to use headphones with their cell phones to listen to music as opposed to streaming slowing the bandwidth in the computer lab. When twenty students stream music or video, it affects the speed of the connection in the lab.”
To add on to this, 45%, or about half the teachers interviewed, were interested in following the professional developments such as classroom management, using social media as a tool in the classroom, using them as a research tool and how to use cell phone apps as an education tool. Only 12.9% of Hillcrest teachers said that they had no interest in enhancing cell phones into the classroom.
Many teachers wondered why there weren't any professional developments by administration prior to the cell phone policy changing hands. One teacher blames the Mayor for not helping teachers in this move. "There should have been PD as to how to productively use phones as part of instruction BEFORE DeBlasio blindly lifted the ban." Mr. Finkelstein, Assistant Principal of Security, spoke with each SLC about cell phones being a teacher classroom issue, but did not speak about best management practices.
However, while some adults standing in front of the classroom most likely can’t stand the cell phones, other adults seem to try to use cell phones for a good thing. A teacher in the Hillcrest staff said, “Cellphones have the potential to be powerful tools for enhancing learning, but can also serve as destructive influences that hinder learning. There are pros and cons, and if students are allowed to use cell phones in the classroom, they must have considerable discipline to use them wisely in the classroom.”
ALEXTER THOMPSON WILL MOOT COURT IN THE NETHERLANDS