By Alexandre Silberman
WANT Esteemed Contributor (Burlington, Vermont)
Ron MacNeil is in total support of a complete cellphone ban.
It turns out he is not the only one.
Mr. MacNeil, a social studies teacher at Burlington High School in Burlington, Vt., has been dealing with the distraction of cellphones for around ten years. He believes about half of his students are on their phones in class at a given time.
His current policy is just to ask students to put them away. Mr. MacNeil said he has not been strict when it comes to enforcement.
“I’ve always argued that if a kid has a cellphone in class, you take it, and a parent has to come get it,” he said, although Mr. MacNeil has yet to use this policy.
He recalled a time when the high school had a complete cellphone ban, and use was prohibited anywhere on campus.
“[Cellphones] weren’t allowed, and then they just kept liberalizing the rules,” Mr. MacNeil explained.
As a psychology teacher, Mr. MacNeil is well-informed of the neurological effects of cellphone use. He thinks using them is addictive and compulsive behavior.
“This generation is addicted to instant gratification, instant information and instant contact,” he said.
Mr. MacNeil then went on to explain how cellphone use overstimulates the brain.
He remembered being present at a meeting with an assistant principal, another teacher, a student and his parents. The student had his phone underneath his t-shirt and was texting through the surface of the shirt. While Mr. MacNeil laughed at the situation, it made him well aware of how addictive cellphones can be.
Mr. MacNeil thinks the possibility of the school’s administration creating a total cellphone ban is highly unlikely, yet he said many of his colleagues are in favor. At the time of his interview, one of his fellow teachers stepped inside the room to voice his support.
“I know that sounds extreme, but a lot of universities have enacted similar policies,” Mr. MacNeil said of the cellphone ban.
Mr. MacNeil has taken steps in the past to prevent use, including the purchase of a cell phone jammer, a device that cuts out service. The device is considered illegal, yet no one has been prosecuted in the United States for having one, he said.
Mr. MacNeil added that at the time he purchased the jammer, he talked to the teachers in neighboring classrooms about it, who were in full support.
The jammer is less effective at this point because it has become outdated. It only blocks up to 3G signal, and students with smartphones can still use WiFi.
Beth Fialko Casey, an English teacher, also feels concerned about cellphone use, but is not in favor of the cellphone ban.
“I feel like as a teacher we need to be the enforcers of that,” she said.
Nonetheless, she did voice her concern for the distraction cellphones are creating.
“I think the constant need to be connected to something outside of the space that you’re actually occupying is a detriment to your capacity to learn,” Ms. Fialko Casey said.
Ms. Fialko Casey thinks students are stealthy when it comes to hiding phone use, and believes the problem is worse than what she sees.
She frequently uses public shaming as a form of punishment for cellphone use, and also will remind students at the start of class to put them away.
“I just try to come down pretty hard at the beginning of the year, and I take the phone right away,” Ms. Fialko Casey said.
She recalled past years when iPads were provided to students as significantly worse for distraction.
Ms. Fialko Casey has her own classroom policies, which include having some students hand in their phones at the door.
“I also have some students that I ask to volunteer to put their phone on my desk, and I have some days as many as seven kids who will say, I need to be fully present to learn,” she said.
She will take a cellphone immediately upon seeing it, and return it to the student at the end of class.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to create a climate where it is a transgression to be on your phone,” Ms. Fialko Casey said.
Image Source: Alexandre Silberman