'Why I've ditched my phone - in school anyway...'

Sarah Ledger had been inseparable from her phone for two decades - then she discovered the freedom of putting it aside

For a teacher, choosing not to take your phone into work can be a liberating experience, says Sarah Ledger

My thought process started – as most of them do these days – with a conversation on Twitter

“Why are we banning mobile phones for kids?” the outraged tweeter posted, “when we’ve all got mobile phones ourselves? Why are kids different?” 

I adroitly – I thought, anyway – sidestepped the tiresome old kids vs adults argument, and was about to stumble over on the BAN mobile phones/mobile phones are great dichotomy.  And then I remembered how many times I’ve been tangled in these twitterstorms with nothing to show for it apart from a deep sense of irritation and a sore scrolling thumb. Instead, I considered my current situation.

My plan this term is to be calm, to be positive and to be present. All these are sometimes a struggle but, on close examination, it’s my phone that gets in the way of all of them. 

Welded to my phone

How can I be calm or, indeed, positive when my news alerts keep informing me of the many global disasters that are tearing our world apart right now? How can I be present when I glance at my screen and notice that there are seven missed calls from “Mum & Dad” – both with Alzheimer’s – and not know whether they’ve fallen down the stairs or simply forgotten what day it is?

The solution initially seemed straightforward: turn the phone off at work. But it’s not that simple. Like so many of us, I’ve placed all my interactive eggs in one elegantly designed basket. My phone is my link to the outside world, my record collection, my watch, my timer, my camera, my newspaper, my encyclopaedia, my alarm clock, my diary, my photo album (have you seen my dog? He’s gorgeous), my entertainment, my weather map, my social life, my mirror, my bank account, my pedometer, my food diary, my torch, my comfort blanket. How could I manage without it? 

I’ve been welded to that bloody phone and its predecessors for two decades. In the absence of pockets and the kind of job that often requires me to be in two places at once, my mobile phone nestles in my cleavage – a handy arrangement, apart from the time it went off in there during staff briefing and lit up my bosoms while I was going over Year 11 revision procedures – and it’s always available. Unless of course, I’ve put it down somewhere and can’t remember what I’ve done with it. Then I have to waste a frantic 20 minutes retracing my steps, and in the meantime mislay my keys…

I made a plan. After all, there was a time when I didn’t have a phone. How did I manage then? I had to remember how it was back in the day – when I arranged to meet people at a specific time and a specific place, and stuck to it; when I didn’t need to check my bank balance every hour; when I looked out of the window to see if it was raining; when my colleagues could complete an anecdote without unsolicited digital images of my Patterdale terrier chasing a stick being thrust under their noses. Some might say they were happier times. 

Calmer and more focused

I started by buying a watch. I paused at the Fitbits because the certain knowledge that I’ve clocked up 7,000 extra steps between the kick-off at the Astroturf and a mild disturbance in the dinner queue lends a virtuous glow: not just working but walking. But Fitbits have their own baggage. Instead, I bought a little fob watch – with a face and hands – to hang from my lanyard. 

I asked the network team to install iTunes on my laptop, so I can continue to play inspiring music in assembly. I asked my adult son to be first point of contact for my parents. (“What if there’s an emergency?” asked my millennial child, raised in the era of instant messaging. “Email me,” I said. “I can’t just email you ‘Granny’s dead,’ can I?” he said. “Just write ‘call me when you can’…or phone reception…”)

I’ve realised that I don’t have to know how overdrawn my account is minute by minute. And, if our world leaders choose to do something insane…what am I saying? We’re on world-leader insanity overload right now: no need for updates.

You know what? It’s worked. Not having my phone in school has been such a relief. I’m calmer, more focused. There are telephones and the internet in work. I can be in touch with the outside world without keeping an iPhone 9 up my jumper, and the odds of my cleavage accidentally sending an incoherent text message to my ex-husband are significantly diminished. 

In fact, it turns out, all I really need my phone for in school is Urban Dictionary. As head of Year 11, there are moments when I’m faced with an obscure street term – presented by a child, written on a planner, in a Snapchat message or reported by a concerned parent. The more obscure, the more morally dubious it’s likely to be, and it’s not necessarily something I want to explain to my network manager after I’ve Googled it and something ghastly has appeared on the screen of my laptop. It’s bad enough I have to find out about it in the first place.

My phone is out of temptation’s way in the glove compartment of my car in the car park. When I finish work, there’s the pleasant treat of catching up with messages at the end of the day, and rejoicing in a full battery beyond 5.30pm. I recommend it. 

Sarah Ledger has been teaching English for 33 years

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