Letter to Faculty: Collect Phones to Avoid Distraction

Trinity Grimes, Guest Writer

Dear NHS Faculty:

“Put your phone away” has become a sentence uttered far too often by teachers in our schools today. Time and time again through almost every class, teachers are having to fight with their students to keep their attention on and keep their cell phones off. In this day in age, virtually every high school student has a smartphone that they bring to school, and distractions from these devices have become an epidemic in our schools. Teachers can no longer keep students’ attention during long teaching and instruction, instead finding students turning to their phones for entertainment on social media. Schools all over the country are trying new policies to combat this growing problem, but there is another way. That is to say, teachers who have a problem with cell phone interruptions should employ a collection of each student’s cell phone before class. Physical separation will allow students to take their phones off their mind during teaching while still having their phones for emergencies, therefore preventing teachers from having to fight for their students’ attention.

Some may argue that it is each student’s own personal decision whether or not he or she uses his or her phone in class. However, when a student uses his or her phone during class, it not only affects his or herself, but also the student distracts those around him or her and even the teacher, which in turn, affects all the students in the class. Therefore, this matter cannot be solely up to that individual student. On page nineteen of the school handbook, it clearly states, “School personnel have the authority to detain and search, or authorize the search of, any student upon reasonable suspicion of inappropriate use of a wireless communication device. School personnel have the authority to confiscate or to remove the wireless communication device from the student’s possession.” This means that it is up to the school how and when students may use their devices.

Throughout research, one recurring mistake surfaced regarding this issue, that is, many schools are banning phones altogether or making extremely strict policies which have been proven to be mostly ineffective. In 2014, a survey of full-time faculty members at a local university in the United States was published. The survey was conducted to test hypotheses on the effect of smartphones on college campuses. Results showed, “…when faculty members banned mobile phones completely in their classroom and enforced the laws strictly, instances of distractions are bound to occur.” In order to have such strict policies in school, they must be enforced in the classroom. However, teachers cannot be expected to continuously stop teaching to enforce the rules and to discipline students. This would distract everyone, including engaged students, because the teacher is being interrupted. This would contribute to the problem and put unnecessary stress on teachers, whereas it would be better if the students were not on their devices at all, but rather, the students’ phones were safely kept out of sight in an assigned pocket on a wall in the classroom.

Aside from being a better option than banning cell phones, collection of students’ phones at the start of class will allow for physical separation of the students from their devices. This will help students to take their phones off their minds during teaching while still having their phones available when they might need it outside of class or after school. An article published in 2018 summarized a study that took a group of people and had them complete different tasks to measure their cognitive capacity. While performing these tasks, participants were asked to either put their phone face down on the table in front of them, in their pocket or in a bag, or in another room. The article reviews their results, “The results were striking: individuals who completed these tasks while their phones were in another room performed best, followed by those who left their phones in their pockets. In last place were those whose phones were on their desks.” This reveals that students need physical separation from their phones. Having their phones silenced and out on their desks is not enough; they can still be a distraction. Like someone calling their name, they pay attention to their phones when they buzz which takes up some of their cognitive capacity, preventing them from being able to fully focus on what is going on in class. As evidenced previously, physical separation is necessary for most students to be able to focus on class even if the student’s phone is just on his or her desk. Gathering each student’s phone at the beginning of class will allow for students to concentrate without distraction.

In addition to providing physical separation, collection before class prevents teachers from having to fight for their students’ attention because of smartphone misuse. A study concerning the problem of cell phones in college classrooms interviewed staff and teachers on how they felt about the issue and their experiences with cell phones in their classrooms. This is how one teacher described it: “Since they do not comply I have to take time off during class to tell them to pull the plug out of their ears and I say, ‘Can you please put your cell phones away?’ Their use of smart phones take up time during class lecture if I have to stop the class every now and then to bring it to their attention to stop using smart phones.” Teachers having to go out of their way and interrupt teaching to address the problem of cell phone use has become a big problem in schools, distracting all of the students in the class and wasting time. Collecting phones at the beginning of class would allow students to concentrate on the teacher and not have the opportunity to cause distraction with their phones therefore eliminating this power struggle. Another study was published in 2017 regarding the effects of classroom cell phone usage on teachers. They took polls of students and faculty at a regional university and cataloged the results. They found that many of the teachers who were polled viewed students’ use of their devices in class distracting. Clearly, students are not the only ones being distracted during class by someone on their phone. Teachers reported being distracted and stressed by students who are engaged in their devices rather than the teacher’s lecture. The teacher cannot fully concentrate on his or her lectures when he or she sees disengaged students in the classroom. If students’ phones were collected before the lecture to ensure no one would abuse them, teachers would be able to better focus on their teaching. As a result, students who are disengaged from class and are improperly using their devices are a distraction to everyone and a great nuisance to teachers. Some sort of cell phone amassment at the beginning of a class or lecture would ensure no one has immediate access to their phones and that everyone is properly engaged, helping all the students to focus and allowing teachers to concentrate on their teaching.

Therefore, if a teacher has issues with phone abuse in the classroom, it would be helpful for the teacher to implement some sort of collection at the beginning of class in order to separate the students from their devices and to prevent the teacher from having to fight for the students’ attention. Banning phones and other strict policies do not seem to be working in most schools, and phones are still a major issue affecting both students and teachers. Some physical separation for students from their phones will help to limit distractions in the classroom while still allowing students to have their phones outside of class. This way there is not so much of a hassle for the teachers to keep students engaged and away from social media. Teachers could implement an organized collection of each student’s phone before class or certain activities in order to provide physical separation which will serve to bypass the struggles between the teacher and students to put phones away and to prevent distraction during class. It is as the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Sincerely,

Trinity Grimes, freshman

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