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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Students, Teacher, Administrators, and Cell Phones: A Study in Consequences

I promise I won't try to use this blog to report on all the bad things my kids are doing.  They actually do many very good things like the blood drive we had at school sponsored by the Student Council that had around 40 donors.  We have a lot of class acts in our school.

I do want to say a thing or two about cell phones.  As do many school districts, we tried to ban the use of cell phone in places other than the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch. This became a continual battle where we were constantly telling our kids to put up their phones, stop texting in class, get rid of the earphones so they can hear the lesson.  It was a never ending struggle. Many teachers simply gave up and allowed students to have phones out, especially during work times. This created a "[school] house divided" on cell phone policy. 

Then we tried a compromise.  Students could have cell phone and ear phones in the cafeteria, while going through the halls, and during allowed times in class.  We created "Red" times and "Green" class times.  During Red times, students had to put their phones away or face down and take out their earphones, so they could get instruction from the teacher. Then during "Green" times, phones and earphones could be used. We even have laminated, letter sized posters with red on one side and green on the other.  This is still our policy.

So before I begin my lesson, I hold up the red side and tell them, "Now, you are all under Red." When the students do things like work on problems or answer assigned questions, I flip the card around to green and allow them to get out the devices to which they are hopelessly addicted. The problem comes in the time used to go through this procedure, and in the fact that some/many/too many students ignore it altogether and continue indulging in this distraction. 

We have tried to assign consequences to those who violate the procedure.  I used to put an envelop on their desks if they had a phone out "under Red." The idea was that they lost the privilege of having their phone out for the rest of the class, even when "under Green."  Those who did so were assigned further consequences, usually lunch detention. 

It worked for a while, but not long because the consequences for violating the procedure soon broke down.

And there is the rub. Students, for the most part, ignored the detention consequence.  Theoretically, ignoring lunch detention would mean a more onerous consequence placing the student into in-school detention, or In-School Intervention (ISI).  This meant that the student was referred by a teacher to an administrator who would assign ISI by means of a written document called a "referral." In the real world, administrators were overwhelmed with referrals due to the sheer number of students who feel that they can ignore the consequence and not be punished.  So this procedure was abandoned.  We are still working on its replacement.

And that pretty much sums up most of the problems with have student misconduct.  Sooner or later it becomes up to the administrators to deal with the problem, and they find themselves snowed under.  There is much finger pointing and blame laying that traditionally goes on between administrators and staff, but it has been my observation that in 21 years in an urban classroom, the problem of how to successfully meet out consequences that alter student behavior has never been solved.  I have read books, heard anecdotes, and been to workshops where those who claim to have the answers speak of scholastic El Dorados where students change from sulky, defensive, passive-aggressive teenagers into model scholars. But it has not happened in my experience, and I do not think this has been for lack of trying on anyone's part.

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