This teacher learned to stop fighting cellphones in the classroom

This teacher learned to stop fighting cellphones in the classroom
In some schools students are encouraged to use their phones to gather relevant information and text in answers or questions to their teacher. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

The challenge of teaching students who use their mobile devices in class made national headlines after a violent clash between a student and a sheriff's deputy in South Carolina. The Los Angeles Unified School District prohibits "the use of cellular phones or any electronic signaling device by students on campus during normal school hours," according to the Parent Student Handbook. While that might be the case, in reality, teachers must consistently patrol mobile technology in the classroom, and many have created their own policies for dealing with — and even embracing — cellphones. Below, Jeff Austin, a teacher and coordinator at Social Justice Humanitas Academy in San Fernando, shares his approach.

Classroom rules of engagement

At the end of the day, kids have phones, and I can't stop that. I can throw my arms in the air in defeat and blame technology for my shortcomings in the classroom, or I can acknowledge their presence and just do better. Here are some rules of engagement I have created:

Be more engaging than the cellphone
When I was in high school my teachers needed to be more engaging than whatever I could see through the window or just my imagination. Some were; some weren't. It’s not that different. My imagination could distract me for much longer than a quick text or Snapchat or Kik.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em
I let my kids take pictures of class assignments, the blackboard if it has some weird graph, or the daily agenda. The reality is that this sometimes saves time so I get more time for pure instruction. That's a win in my book. Plus, I photobomb their pictures.
Make phones into cool learning tools
I use polls and programs like NearPod that have interactive exercises that can give you quick feedback. Once I make it an educational tool they sometimes forget about the other parts.
Keep in contact with students via phone
I email my students all the time. Some can only afford the phone and not a computer. Sometimes they email me during lunch or other parts of the school day and I can respond before they leave. If my response isn't enough they can stop by.

The technology I have at my disposal as a teacher is way more advanced than anything that they can do while trying to hide their phones in their laps. Plus, they're probably trying to communicate with a friend, so I just communicate and connect with them instead. And if they are looking at their phones, I may be to blame. I check my phone in boring meetings too.