I have been teaching in the secondary system in Melbourne for a number of years. This year feels, in some ways, a little different for many of us at my college. This feeling, which I would describe as one of relief, comes about simply because we, as a school, have taken a firm stand against the ubiquitous mobile phone.
This stance does not mean that we think that phones cannot be a useful learning tool in the classroom. It is just that now our experience tells us that in the vast majority of cases, when it comes to mobile phones there is usually very little learning taking place.
I imagine this would be the case for countless schools. We had students sitting on the floor in corridors before school, texting or running their well-worn thumbs down the interface of their phone, obsessed with their Instagram feeds. We had students entering their homeroom and in many instances placing their school books on the table and instantly reverting to their phones without even a cursory glance at their teacher or fellow students.
Some teachers were collecting phones to place in a basket at the start of each lesson, which would eat into valuable time and often produce further teenage angst. Students took photos of written or typed messages on the whiteboard and even, undoubtedly, of each other.
Last lesson would produce further checking in of phones and often little beeps to register an incoming message, or even, just as annoying, their phone would flash suddenly if it was on silent. I don’t know how many times the students accessed their phone during the day but I shudder to think. Perhaps it would go beyond double figures.
It’s not that we, as a school, did not act on obsessive mobile phone use. Teachers regularly confiscated phones. We made a big deal of it in meetings and as part of our general classroom rules. It is just that what we were doing was not effective enough.
Well that’s all in the past and this year we all feel so much better for it. This is all because my school made the decision at the end of last year that enough is enough.
We formed a new decree.
Phones could be accessed before school and after school and that was it. Placed in lockers throughout the day. No phone on a person either in class or at lunchtime or recess. The first day in about 21 phones were collected throughout the morning and afternoon. Day two that number was five, and so on. Now it barely raises a ripple of dissent.
Miraculously, we are all used to it. Teachers practise what they preach. And I get the feeling students actually like it. School is easier this way. It is nice to check your phone at the end of the day. But now it seems normal not to worry or think about it until the bell has gone and there are buses and trains to catch.
Naturally this doesn’t quite happen without some consequences. But I don’t think they are particularly harsh. They don’t need to be.
First time: phone confiscated for the day. Second time: the same deal but a 30-minute detention on top of that. Third time: a 60-minute detention and a parent or guardian has to come in to collect the phone.
There are further penalties beyond that, but several weeks in and we haven’t got beyond that. And I don’t think we will. We can all see and feel the benefits. I wish every high school would do something like this.
Darren Harrison is a teacher at St Columba’s College, Essendon.