Sunday, August 5, 2012

Why Teachers Hate Texting

Good ol' August: the time when teachers start touching up their syllabuses and students begin their summer reading.

Certainly every school district by now has a policy prohibiting the use of cell phones during class, so of course that'll show up on your syllabus along with the penalty for violating the policy.

You'll probably see their eyes glaze over when you bring it up in class. They already know what's allowed and what isn't, and the ones who are going to do it anyway are more concerned about how to get away with it than what the punishment will be should they get caught.

So my plan is to focus more on justifying the policy than threatening them with the consequences. Maybe teenagers in the 21st century aren't sure why it's such a big deal. I mean, come on. They text like other generations breathe.

The following is my effort to explain texting's lethal effect on a learning environment. My students will get a copy of this and I'm putting it on Blackboard for back-up. If you like it, feel free to use some or all of it. Or you could send me yours. Either way, feel free to post comments.

The Texting Problem:
You Must Be Present to Win
For centuries now, classrooms have had four walls, not just out of an architectural necessity, but to provide a separate space for the world of the mind. Those walls remind us that we are taking a brief sabbatical from that world racing away outside the classroom window while we, in our little refuge, ponder the meaning of things, try to make sense of the world and perhaps figure out our place in it.
Texting, on the other hand, breaks down those walls, and the world and its worries come tumbling into our once sacred space.

The best classes are those in which you are so engaged in the material that you lose all sense of time and are startled to notice that class is over.
This feeling – often called the flow state -- is only possible through focus, concentration and participation, none of which is possible while texting.
While the classroom walls are intact, students often find themselves engaged in intellectual, stimulating, thought-provoking and sometimes unsettling conversations that are extremely rare in the outside world. As a teacher, these highly charged conversations, in which I become little more than a bystander or moderator, are my favorite classes. In these, we share our ideas, watch them change and grow, and listen to other sides of issues, to different interpretations and different ways of looking at things. We watch a first-draft whim evolve, through conversation, into a full-fledged idea.
Because texting takes us rudely out of this conversation and into another, it can thoroughly disrupt this powerful way of learning.
My best classes develop a strong sense of community. While we may not all love each other, we adapt; we learn tolerance and respect; we accept that while we might not all like the same books or music, we all have legitimate contributions to make to this team or family or community that has gradually developed in Building 8, Room 226.
But if you’re texting, you are emotionally and intellectually absent from this community and you’re treating  it (i.e., the rest of us) as mere afterthoughts and annoyances. That behavior is rude, disruptive, disrespectful – in a word, unacceptable.
A class, at its best, could be considered a gift or a communal meal. Everyone is given the opportunity to think, listen, share, learn, give and receive; everyone is invited to leave the room a slightly different human than the one who entered it less than an hour ago.
But this simply cannot happen if you’re texting. You should not try to be in two places at once. You have to stay here. You must be present to win.


  1. Hello!

    I totally agree that disengaging from the classroom conversation to start another outside the scope of learning isn't productive, much less polite.

    And yet, I must challenge the concept that four walls is a good thing.

    In a world that grows smaller by the moment - much thanks to technology - students could benefit from a world wide audience and information resources. Instead of banning texting, how about harnessing the power of cellphones and handheld internet devices for good, instead of evil.

    Perhaps consider these ideas:
    Get students to tweet about what they've learned - both to each other and to a worldwide audience. Encourage your kids to blog and engage in a discussion pondering meaning with not only their neighbors but learners with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. I have been doing this with my 4th and 5th graders and their self-efficacy, agency and analytical thinking has skyrocketed. Said one of my students, "I just like being heard by new people." Pretty cool stuff.

    I agree that cell phone banning in schools can be a necessity and explaining the need for it can help students feel less like put-upon subjects of a Fascist school system. I just hope that we can also see the benefit of breaking down those four walls and inviting new members to these sessions of "pondering" - even if this is a goal for the future and not for right now.

    Thanks for your post!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jennie. I agree with your suggestions, even though, as someone who is technologically still living in the 19th century, I don't look forward to the changes. But as long as cell phones and such are prohibited by the county, I'll have to continue to persuade students to focus on what's happening inside the walls. Sounds like you have a good bunch of kids.

  2. You're an AP teacher teaching AP level students. Most likely you don't have a texting problem in your classes and most of the students understand the value of your class. Unfortunately, the students who do have this problem in the unfamiliar realm of standard classes will be unable to decipher this masterpiece to attain it's wisdom.

    1. Unfortunately, even though most of my AP students understand the value of my class, I still have a terrible problem with texting. And I doubt if anyone will really think my rant is a masterpiece, but I appreciate your comment.

  3. WOW Roy Starling! What a great blog.

    Barbara Kelly