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Guest blogger Ashley Hermsmeier is a teacher, runner and writer in her sixth year of teaching English at El Capitan High School in Lakeside. In her blog titled, “I Run Because I Teach” she discusses the two aspects of life that simultaneously give her enjoyment and frustration: teaching and running. Here she takes on another school hassle: Cell phones. These are her reflections and opinions, not mine, so if you have burning questions or comments, please contact Ashley via e-mail at amorrow@guhsd.net. Or post a comment here on the blog. — EMILY ALPERT

It is a rare day if I walk the halls at school and fail to see a student using a cell phone. Before class, after class, and worst of all during class, cell phones are never more than a few inches away from a teenager’s hand. As few as five years ago, a cell phone disturbance during class was an oddity, and as little as 10 years ago it wasn’t even on the radar. Today, I am on constant alert for students who surreptitiously glance down into their laps to check for messages.

I got to thinking about the amount of instructional time cell phones siphon from my classroom. The current school policy instructs teachers to confiscate the phone, attach a note with the student’s name and ID number to it, take the phone to the front office and write a referral.

This process (depending on the resistance level of the student) takes, on average, three minutes of class time to do properly. And it doesn’t stop others from using their phones in class, because teens are blessed with that unique mentality that tells them “I’m not going to get caught.”

I decided to do the math. If one confiscation takes three minutes, then 18 minutes of instructional time per day (with six periods) are wasted because of cell phone disturbances. That’s roughly six hours a month and 54 hours per school year.

Most teachers don’t go through this entire process because it throws off the classroom’s rhythm. The argument that making an example of a couple of students will cause cell phone abuse to go away is a farce. It works for maybe a day or two, and then students start sneaking them out again. It does not matter how many detentions or calls home or referrals I give, I still say every single day: “Put it away. Turn it off.”

I decided to survey my freshman and senior classes with a few key questions. Here are my numbers; take them for what they’re worth. (I polled 123 students.)

According to school policy, all cell phones must be turned off during class. During class my phone is usually:

  • On vibrate, silent or airplane mode: 86 percent
  • Turned off completely: Less than 1 percent
  • “Other,” “don’t have a phone,” or “depends on the class”: 13 percent

On average, how many times during one class period, do you sneak your cell phone out to text message?

  • 1-3 times: 36 percent.
  • 4-5 times: 14 percent.
  • As often as possible — I keep it hidden in my lap: 18 percent.
  • Other/Depends on the Class: 32 percent.

On average, how many times do you use your cell phone during instructional time on any given day?

Average Answer: 25 times per day during instructional time.

Who is the person you contact the most during class time?

  • Top answer: A friend, or boy/girlfriend in another class.
  • Runner up: A parent or guardian.

Other answers included: Friend at another school, friends no longer in school.

With technology like cell phones, we have entered a new era in the teaching profession. No one knows how to properly deal with it and teachers can’t compete.

I long for the days of note passing. I’d give anything to catch a kid working on a handwritten note. At least they’d be working on writing skills with more than just their thumbs. Text message language is destroying students’ spelling and grammar … but that’s a blog for another day.

Every second in the classroom is important. A vibrating cell phone during a test might last only a second, but it breaks students’ concentration and then the teacher is left with the dilemma … do I further interrupt the test to find out whose phone buzzed? Or, do I pretend not to hear it so students can get back on their trains of thought?

Parents, we need your help. We know it’s convenient for your kids to have cell phones at school and these days it’s wise for safety. But what I ask of you is two-fold:

First, please learn your child’s class schedule and do not call or text during class. Second, have real consequences for your child when a teacher calls about your child’s inappropriate cell use. Take away some privileges and teach your kids about respect in the classroom … that, too, is a blog for another day.

— ASHLEY HERMSMEIER

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