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06 December 2017

Don't play cops and robbers with phones.

In a September post, I explained briefly how I deal with students who ask to go to the bathroom.  It's very simple: I say, please don't ask, just place your phone on your desk and go. 

The comment section of that post became active, and brought up an important piece of teaching philosophy.  First, here's my follow-up comment explaining the purpose behind the "just put your phone down and go" approach:

Note that I'm not in any way making the rule "no texting in the bathroom!" Uh-uh. That sounds condescending, it gives students ideas, and it worries the rule-followers. 
No rules here, in fact I'm giving students freedom from rules - in other classes, they feel oppressed that they have to ask permission to exercise a simple bodily function, and furthermore that the teacher is likely to nag them about their body's timing. Here, they are free to do as they need to. 
Yet, trust but verify. Since the phone goes on the desk as a matter routine (not rule), there won't be any texting in the bathroom. Then it's my job to hold activities interesting enough to minimize using the bathroom as an excuse to relieve the boredom of class.

Later on, Dean Baird brought up how students will, inevitably and frustratingly, escalate a battle with their teacher passive-aggressively:

Seems reasonable. Of course, students intent on "phoning out" while using the hall pass will equip themselves with "burners" to satisfy instructors who adopt such strategies. Hall pass use is a sticky wicket; a puzzle not so easily solved. In courses populated y highly academically challenged students, some find a daily need for hall pass usage. And any kind of restriction is virtually impossible to implement. Offering carrots for non-usage works only with students concerned with academic performance. "Pretty good" and "Good enough" solutions are the best we can realistically hope for.

Dean's right that some students will see bathroom texting as a game, to see how they can beat the system and "stick it to The Man." (True even when The Man is, in fact, The Woman.)

And my response - LET THEM. As soon as we engage as cop, the students engage as robber.

I say "please leave your phone" for the same reason the audience is asked "please turn off your phones" before a stage play begins. It's all too easy for anyone, adult or teenager, to fall to the temptation to real-quick check that important text, or to answer a buzzing phone from a number we recognize. Leaving the phone in the classroom, turning off the phone before the performance eliminates that temptation and helps the class/audience maintain an extended period of focus.

So what do we say about the audience member who smirks and pulls out a second, burner phone on which to text during the play, and then tells the usher "hey, but I did what you said, I turned off my phone, you can't kick me out, I'm gonna sue?" That's a problem that goes beyond techniques to manage people; such behavior is no different from extending a middle finger to everyone, including the performers and the other audience members. This dumbarse needs to be ushered away toot sweet without discussion.

But the existence of the willful fool doesn't mean that we should change our respectful approach to the rest of the audience. "Okay, folks, last night we had a guy texting in the middle of the performance and thumbing his nose at the house rules. I'm sick of you audience people not being able to keep away from your phones. So tonight, we're going to collect phones before the show, and anyone who sneaks out a second phone will face criminal charges. Here's Chief Wiggum at the front ready to enforce those rules. We're not playing around, got it?"

And that's what teachers sound like when they make draconian rules to deal with one or two uncooperative students. The guy using the burner phone in the bathroom thinks he scored a point against you. But we're not keeping score. Find a way to deal with the individual that doesn't involve class rules. Or just ignore him - the rest of the class may laugh with him, but if no one else is using burner phones, maybe it's not that important for Batman to defeat the Bathroom Texter. :-)


  1. "As soon as we engage as cop, the students engage as robber." <--- I love this point.

  2. Greg, I love and hate my smart phone. It's a quick fix for my attention...but it takes my attention away from something else, which is often times probably a more meaningful experience! (My wife and I adopted a no phones rule until the kid goes to bed to make sure that we aren't staring at our phones when she's trying to get our attention!!)

    The best solution that I have found with my students is a quote, which I started saying at the beginning of every class about three years ago and has evolved to sound like this, "This is your friendly reminder that cell phones are strictly prohibited in my classroom. Please take this opportunity to silence them, and place them in a secure location where you and your friends will not have access to them for the remainder of the class. If I see the phone I will take it. First offense - get back at the end of class; Second - end of the school day; third - a parent or guardian will need to come get it. If you need to text mom or dad about something important the appropriate place to do that is in the hallway, which you may do."

    By saying this I clearly lay out my expectations and the consequences for not playing along. Most of my students view this less as me being the cop, and more as this is the expectation for the environment that I'm in right now. If I forget to say this the kids will undoubtedly call me out on not giving them their warning and I will recite to them my expectation. I have had HUGE success with implementing this into my classroom. I can think of maybe one instance in the past 3 years where I haven't been able to resolve this situation peacefully with even my most troublesome student and had to call an administrator. This semester I have collected 6 phone. 1 student was a second time offender. I will say my quote every day if it gets me those results.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I've seen where teachers' fervent don't-play-cops mentality leads, and it's not a pretty place. Think lord of the flies type chaos, some sort of dystopian future where 25 in 30 students never take their eyes off the phone, and at the end of the semester can't tell you that speed = distance/time

    I'm not saying we, as teachers, should "play cop". I'm saying you're entire framing of this conundrum is erroneous. I agree that overly authoritarian attitudes will inspire rebellion, with the caveat that non-authoritative approaches will undoubtedly descend into snapchat.

    Opinion: When it comes to humans, a little freedom is good. A lot of freedom is detrimental.