These are my observations on my current school's cell phone policy, and somewhat in response to Darren Draper's recent posts on cell phones in school. It includes some speculation, but I'm trying my best to present the background of what appears to have happened to arrive at the current policy.

In years past

[Some speculation here] Based upon stories told by teachers, students, and observations made on the first day of school (when students were generally unaware of the new cell phone policy), in previous years there were no rules against having or using cell phones during school. Indeed, it sounds as if there were no rules against having or using cell phones during class.  While this sounds better than the current policy (hang on, we'll get there), it is my speculation that things were a little too loosy-goosy. Apparently students texting one another during classes was the norm. Teachers who tried to crack down were told they weren't allowed to confiscate cell phones- or at least they weren't well supported by administration when they did. This led to a situation [biggest speculation so far] where students felt entitled to utilize their phones for whatever purposes they saw fit during all times of the school day.

The present day

Because of the many problems that occur with the use of cell
phones during the school day, students are no longer allowed
to use their cell phones during school hours. This means that
from 7:25 am to 2:07 pm, cell phones are not to be used during
class time; during passing times in the halls; during time
spent in the lav, in the library, and/or in the nurse’s office; and
during lunch time in the cafeteria. Students who bring their
cell phones to school should keep them off or silenced, and
cell phones should be safely secured in their backpacks, purses,
or lockers. It is important to note that Fitch High School
is not responsible for lost or stolen articles. In the instance
that a student needs to use a phone during the school day, that
student should notify a faculty or staff member who will
direct that student to a phone

- 2008-2009 Student Handbook

Teachers have been instructed to confiscate all cell phones upon sight during the school day, whether students are in the halls, at lunch, or in the classroom.

The (my) ideal

[My opinions] The lack of regulations in years past seems to have led to the blatant misuse of cell phones during the school day. Texting during while the class is in session, increased tardiness due to use of cell phones between classes, and other uses I do believe are negative and shouldn't be allowed. The new rules seem to have come as a reaction to this lack of regulation. Perhaps, given the environment of allowed misuse in years past the "confiscate on sight" policy is more appropriate. However, I'd hope that next year the rules would be changed slightly once the misuse has been purged.

From a recent poll of my freshman classes, I found that 87% of my students- as freshmen- have their own cell phones. As time goes on, it is likely that percentage will rise even further. This data points to the pervasiveness of cell phones in our society. Upon graduation students will own personal cellphones and more than likely take them to their place of work. In their future job's professional environment cell phones (most likely) won't be banned, but they will be expected to use their phones responsibly.

While I understand that not all (read: most) teachers are not ready to jump to the use of cell phones in class¹, I believe that all teachers are in a position to help students learn responsible management of cell phones. By responsible management, I mean students would be allowed to have cell phones in school, but would be taught when it's okay to text, take calls, or otherwise use their phones in a professional environment. I feel this acknowledges a couple of truths: (1) cell phones are not a fad, and will be a part of our lives for the forseable future, (2) teaching responsible use is more important and effective than simply banning. Banning tells our students we're afraid of their new fangled techno-tools, and as such they write off schools as not being relevant to their lives.

Taking it further

Of course, cell phones are powerful little computers nowadays. They most certainly can be used appropriately to enhance the K-12 curriculum. I have no experience with this (having worked at cell phone banned schools my entire career), but let me point you toward some resources I've come across.

Image credit: Ben Wildeboer


¹ However I have heard teachers request calculators several times so far this year because they don't have enough. How ironic that most students are carrying calculators in their pockets, but are banned from taking them out.