Adventures In Substitute Teaching: The Cell Phones

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             April 30, 2017

           

I was driving to school last week for a day of substitute teaching. I’m like an educational handyman…science class one day, language arts the next, physical education the day after, and social studies right before those. On this day I was headed for another day of language arts. As I approached the school I noticed one student crossing the street while looking at his cell phone. My first thought was “That kid could get hit and he wouldn’t even know it!” My second thought was “What is so urgent that it needs to be texted by a middle school kid at 7:00 in the morning as he’s crossing the street in heavy traffic?”

I’ve noticed it quite often. Students walking to school with their eyes focused on their cell phones. Cell phones have become what could best to described as “technological alcohol!” They are tech crack! People can’t live without them, but more than that, they can’t live without them for the next five minutes.

The school I mostly substitute teach at has a program called “Face Up/Face Down.” Students know that “face down” time means their devices are face down on their desks. When it’s ‘face up” time they can use their devices to look up information for class assignments or view relevant videos connected to their study focus.

But, you guessed it, the addiction to their electronic devices has resulted in “sneakiness” as a developed student skill. One young lady was sitting at her desk with her backpack in her lap trying to look studious whenever I looked at her. But I wasn’t born yesterday. Her backpack was in her lap, for crying out loud! I knew she was using the backpack to shield her cell phone from view. I let it slide for a few minutes and then in one practiced move she simultaneously put her backpack on the floor and slid her cell phone into her pocket. She asked if she could go to the restroom, and I said yes. In essence, she probably had to text someone about where they were going to sit at lunchtime in the cafeteria. When she came back and started to place her backpack on her lap again I told her to put her cell phone away…that, even though I’m old I’m not entirely clueless. I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck! In fact, I was once gifted in the art of sneakiness!

In a different class I confiscated three cell phones- placed them on the teacher’s desk for the rest of class- because one was posting on Facebook and two others were playing video games. Here’s the thing about a student using his cell phone to play a video game in class! Others become interested in watching him play the game. There becomes this little audience behind the student! It’s not bad behavior, just behavior that students know is not allowed in class.

The two students who were playing video games ratted out the girl who was posting on Facebook. I hadn’t noticed her!

A study conducted by the psychology department of UCLA on a group of sixth graders concluded that students who were deprived of all digital media for a few days did much better in recognizing emotions than students who were allowed access of digital media. One researcher made the comment that a student can’t learn emotional cues from a screen like he can from face-to-face interaction.

Digital media has its benefits, but, like anything that is consumed too much, it has become destructive. It’s like Lay’s Potato Chips…you can’t eat just one…and suddenly you real;ize that half the bag is gone! MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle agrees with how our digital addiction effects other things. In her 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation she makes the argument that cell phones are greatly affecting people’s ability to have deep conversations. She says that 89% of Americans took out a cell phone during their last social interaction, and 82% say that it resulted in a deteriorating of the conversation they were in.

A friend of mine who manages a hair salon told me that she instituted a digital devices ban for her employees when they are working. She had noticed that their focus wasn’t on the customer entering the store, but rather on their cell phones. They fought her tooth and nail on the ban, but now are realizing how much more interaction they are having with the person whose business they need in order for the store to stay in business and continue handing them pay checks.

Back to middle school! Let me tell you! Students think that substitute teachers are essentially clueless and won’t pick up on their device activity. But you know something? I’ve been there many, many years ago. Oh, it wasn’t a cell phone used in forbidden ways, but rather “the passing of notes” in class. I could pass notes with the best of them and not be discovered. Back in the day this Wolfe was a sly fox!

Explore posts in the same categories: children, Community, Freedom, Humor, Parenting, Story, Uncategorized, Youth

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