Cellphone rules? Say what?

Students, staff and administration have differing opinions about cell phone use and policy

Cellphone rules? Say what?

    It’s become an art form for students to hide their cellphone usage during class.

    Whether it is checking it during bathroom breaks, concealing it in books and calculator sleeves, or texting friends while a teacher’s back is turned, many students have found ways to still browse their phones despite being in the middle of class. Because of this, many teachers have either become increasingly strict with their cellphone policy, or have become accustomed to the unsolicited use of cellphones during their classes.

   The Tigard High School Student Handbook rule regarding cellphones leaves a lot of room for interpretation. “Students whose parents authorize them to carry communication or personal electronic devices have the responsibility to ensure any device does not disrupt the learning atmosphere. Communication or personal electronic devices that are disruptive to the educational environment will be confiscated and will be returned to the parent or guardian.” What does disrupting the learning atmosphere mean? Can they be out as long as students aren’t on them? Must they be put away in backpacks?

    Although the general consensus for punishment is pretty much the same with all teachers (taking said phone away, getting it back at the end of the class/day), what it takes to get to that level varies among teachers. For some, the first warning is enough to take a phone taken away for the rest of the day. For others, students  can have your phone out on your desk for the whole class without fear of punishment. Some teachers even feel differently depending on the day.

    Perhaps one reason teachers lack real consensus when it comes to enforcement and punishment is that there is a lack of evidence about the harms of cellphone use. But slowly that may be changing as society recognizes addiction in the behavior.


The Psychology behind cellphone addiction


    There are also psychological reasons behind why students cannot simply put their phones away during class. For some, it might be a literal addiction. Every time people check their phones  and they see a new notification, their brains releases a small amount of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter the makes people feel good and encourages them to repeat the behavior.

    This can obviously be a problem for students’ learning. Psychology teacher Frederick Holtz has an idea of what kind of effects it could have.

    “Learning is highly tied to what you are paying attention to and cellphones are what people are paying attention to, which means they’re probably not learning when they’re paying attention to their cellphone,” Holtz said.

    He also says that participation in class will be reduced since multitasking is not actually possible. Instead, students have learned to switch their attention back and forth rapidly from their phone to the class material.

    In a study titled “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Cognitive Capability,” researchers found that college students that had their phone sitting silenced on their desk, had a reduced working memory, which is essential for learning well. If even the mere presence of a cellphone reduces cognitive functions, should students have them out in class? The study also found that even having the cellphone in a backpack reduced cognitive function.  


Students have mixed reactions to cellphone use during class


    Junior Josh Berry believes the cellphone policy should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, where students should be able to use their phones when they have downtime while still respecting their teachers’ wishes to put it away when asked. He explained he uses his phone for both academic and social reasons while in class. Ultimately, the responsibility to use cellphones wisely lives within the student rather than the school. “I think it’s the student’s choice if they want to fail the class or not,” Berry said.

    Senior Teresa Do feels the cellphone policy isn’t enforced as well as it should be. “They will make it seem strict but nobody follows it,” Do said. Do also admitted to using her phone for both academic and social reasons.

    Sophomore Caitlin Smith said she’d heard rumors of teachers tightening the reins on cellphones next year but doesn’t have faith since she heard the same claims last year. Smith believes cellphones in the classroom aren’t necessarily a bad thing, “I think teachers make it out to be a problem because they think we’re not paying attention,” she said. “But most of the time we’re doing something productive like texting a club officer or using Quizlet.”


Teachers don’t set a consistent example in policy


    One teacher, Chuck Laiti, has created a system of prohibiting phone usage that has caught the attention of students in and out of his classroom. He has two lines of defense; a “phone basket”, which is a wicker basket on the end of a long pole which is used for the “voluntary donation of phones”, and a “phone safe”, for those students are constantly on their phones.

    He views phones as an unnecessary distraction, and questions why students use their phones during class. He also thinks that teachers shouldn’t have to go through those great lengths to prevent the usage of cellphones during a lecture.

    “For my classes, my lectures seldom last longer than 15 minutes,” Laiti said, “so if you can’t stay off of [social media] for that long, there’s a problem.”

    Laiti tries to be strict on cellphone usage while he’s teaching. He finds that students learn better when they are off their phones for a class, but admits that sometimes it’s nearly impossible to make sure every student is paying attention all the time.

     “At least not being distracted [during class],” Laiti said, “Listening is a skill, and… the presence of media intensifies the possibilities that individuals won’t be engaged in the task at hand.”

    “I think I give kids a break from their phones for 90 minutes,” Susan Suttich said. Her phone policy is that students put their phones up at the front, and they’re not allowed to use them for the rest of the period. Instead of seeing it as strict, some students see this as refreshing; a chance to take a break from the world of social media. “Some kids, I think, come in and are actually relieved to not worry about their phones for a whole period.”

    While there are examples of strict phone policies throughout the school, there are some teachers who believe that, as long as the student is paying attention during the lectures, phones are not an issue. Tim Hummel, a Health 2 teacher, has this view. During his class, many students have their phones out on their desks; however they won’t check them while he is teaching.

    “As long as I’m not talking or lecturing, and students are on task, [and] if they’re done with all their assignments, I don’t mind if they listen to music or if they’re on their phones. But they have to show me that they’re done with all their work,” Hummel said.

    He views himself as “in the middle” when it comes to his stance on phone use but admits he’s more relaxed than strict.  “It’s kinda like work and play,” Hummel said. “There’s a time to work and a time to play, and I’m all about getting the work done before you play.”

    There is no doubt that, although the phone policy varies from teacher to teacher, students will continue to use their phones during class. Whether it be under the watchful eye of a relaxed teacher or underneath their desks, the phone use may continue.


Rule Changes


    Associate Principal Tyler Davila does want to make some slight changes to how cellphones are handled next year because he believes that there is currently a problem. Davila plans to put more signs up outside the doors of each classroom to remind students that their cellphones should be off and away in the classroom. He wants this expectation to be clear for all students.

    “The expectation will be the same. Cellphones should be off and away unless otherwise instructed by your teacher,” Davila said.

    He’s also hoping the once every student has access to a Chromebook there will be less cellphone use in the class since their won’t be an educational reason for students to have them out.