Behaviour: Phones and classrooms

Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management

I’m in a room with two dozen students, most of whom I haven’t taught. Many of them look familiar: strangers to soap, academia and social convention. There are a number of hoods and jackets which are unlikely to come off without a lobster pick and some solvent. A variety of mobile phones are displayed as proudly as the pikestaffs of the Swiss Guard, and were I capable of seeing into the ultraviolet world of radio waves, I would be blinded by the maelstrom of grammar violations and inanities that the information age has facilitated. ‘Around the world, words will fly, in the twinkling of an eye,’ the sixteenth century Christian mystic Mother Bernadette is alleged to have to have prophesied. She might have added, ‘But most of it will be total crap.’ I like to think so.

Phones. Here’s what I do about them:

1. Ban phones from the classroom

Oh, I can already hear cohorts of neatly trimmed teachers howling at the offence this causes the Dark Overlords of IT that govern our souls. ‘But phones are a vital tool for learning!’ they say. ‘Ban them and you might as well ban pens!’ This is rubbish, of course. Children learned perfectly well before they had phones (or as well as normal, anyway). Of course one can imagine a million different scenarios where phones might be of some use. But the same is true any prop whatsoever: a basketball, a balloon with a face drawn on it, a box of frogs, Boris Johnson. Do I allow them as well?

2. If you see a phone, confiscate it

Some teachers find this hard. ‘Now, now,’ they say, ‘I don’t want to see that.’ That might be a decent option while you’re bedding down your rules, but after a while, if you don’t confiscate every phone that sees daylight, the kids will know they can get away with a quick sneaky look without consequences. Because one boundary erodes to be replaced by a new, more remote one, this means the kids will soon be on their phones whenever they want.

3. Don’t try to be groovy

I’ve heard teachers wring their hands and say, ‘Well it’s part of their world now. We just can’t understand it.’ Oh really? I’m bloody addicted to my smart phone; I panic when I can’t find it. But I know when it’s not needed and when it’s not appropriate to get out. I don’t whip it out, slap it on the table during an interview and shout, ‘Who wants to play Angry Birds on THIS?’

Phones. They disrupt lessons. Kids don’t need them. What they do need is to learn what’s appropriate and what’s not. Their 22nd century literacy skills will be just fine. The future will be just fine. Relax. Banish them.



Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state schoolin Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletterson behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour forum or on his blog or Twitter

His latest book, Teacher, is out this month, published by Continuum/ Bloomsbury


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