Busted. Fail. Burned.
It was bound to happen eventually. Hidden behind a name card on top of the desk, one of my classmates got caught texting. I hopped immediately into people watching mode and loved how the teacher initially handled it. The teacher asked, 'what's your position going to be on cellphones in your class? It may be driven by school policy, but either way, how are you going to deal with it?' Sadly, no discussion ensued and the student sheepishly put the cellphone away. Still, I thought this was an amazing way to deal philosophically with cell phones at our level.
A couple minutes later, someone tried the baseball catcher approach to texting and got a less Socratic reaction - a blend of the wrath of Achilles, the Medusa gaze, and Napoleon's whiff of grapeshot. Well, if nothing else, we had learned the real cellphone policy in that class.
Personally, I hate cellphone culture. My personal opinion is that it's impolite, egotistical, and places unreasonable expectations upon its participants. If I'm having dinner with you, your text message can wait until the bill is paid. If you have to answer your phone in the restaurant, either head to the lobby to take the call or spare me the dirty looks when I comment on your conversation (loudly enough so the person on the phone at the other table can hear me). And, with my 'get off my lawn' fist raised in the air, people don't need to be able to reach you at any minute of any day - 'when I was young, we didn't even have answering machines.'
Oh, and I'd best add that I know that my opinion is wrong ... well, make that slightly out of touch with the times. And because my opinion doesn't reflect everyone's values, students will be allowed to use cellphones in my class. Someday in the future, I may be cursing Pandora for not warning me ahead of time; but for now, if the school policy leaves cellphones up to my judgement, I'll be giving a reluctant nod of assent.
I assure you that it's not because I have any desires to be the cool teacher. My wife convinced me to watch the Harry Potter films not by telling me what amazing films they were, but by telling me that all of the spells they cast were in Latin. I'm never going to play halo, I will never watch Jersey Shore, and good luck getting me to sit down and appreciate any music recorded after 1987. If the only way that I can build rapport with the students is by feigning the ability to do as they do, I'm wasting my time in teachers' college.
Part of the reason I'd rather allow cellphone use is that my genetic code doesn't include the 'do as I say, not as I do' allele. Every essay and blog entry (ooh an e-mail) that I've written has (I wonder what's going on in twitter) likely taken twice as long as it could have (I wonder if students will appreciate me yelling 'accio glasses' from time to time) due to my mayfly attention span. We live in a multitasking world, and with very few exceptions (final exams come to mind), it's rare that one can devote more than 15 straight minutes to a given task. The ability to switch tasks is critical, and despite my wish that something more important than a 'whazup' text message was the distraction, the students will need the skill. With the appropriate boundaries, hopefully I'll be able to instill a bit of The Road Less Travelled at the same time.
The second reason for cellphone use will be a bit of a quid pro quo arrangement. I'm hoping to get the smart phone users to agree that in return for the ok to use their cellphones in class if they'll agree to be my researchers from time to time. What's the current $CDN value, what are today's mortgage rates, how does wikipedia sort their entries on vampires? I've seen another teacher use cell phones in the class this way and it seemed to be quite effective, so I'm hoping to model his practice.
In addition, I recognize that there will be times when they're going to test their boundaries in the class. There will be times when the student's action will require immediate correction, times when the action is worthy of a gentle I'm aware and not impressed acknowledgement, and some things that I'll have to let go. As someone advised me, 'you've got to pick and choose your battles' and I'm going to have a tough time seeing texting a message on the same level as a racist comment.
My final reason is that I know that my initial reaction is out of touch with the modern cellphone reality. Every day I'll be certain to see a couple students walking to class together, both of whom are texting other people, and neither student sees an issue with the behavior. If it were me, I'd see it as the height of impoliteness, but for them it's perfectly ok. And I'm guessing that's why the teacher blasted the class ... because cellphone use in the class was seen as a personal insult. Given my feelings about cellphone use, I'd like to say that I won't reach that limit of frustration ... but I know that someday I'll regret having reacted as that teacher did. I just hope when those days come, I'll lean more towards the "how can I make future classes more engaging" than the whiff of grapeshot. After all, it's not like I was able to remain focused on creating that lesson plan from start to finish without interruption, so how can I hold them to a higher standard?
In closing, I'd appreciate any other thoughts on this. I was able to convince myself in August that I would need a cellphone to gain an understanding of the cellphone culture, but two months of texting hasn't helped me understand why someone would feel the need to text from class (emergencies excepted). And perhaps I'm lying to myself, since students who text always try to hide their texting in some way.