Opinion: Phone pockets are unproductive
After a year of distance learning, phone pockets seem less necessary than ever.
October 5, 2021
It’s the first day of school; everybody is buzzing with excitement that will soon dissipate. Walking into your first class, you see a repurposed calculator holder numbered on the wall. Here we go again. Most students have had at least one class in school that utilized phone pockets or a phone storage system of some kind that kept them during class. Teachers use them to remove the struggle of managing phone usage during class, as well as to take attendance. I believe that this system creates a relationship between student and teacher that is built on assumptions and a lack of trust.
In middle school, phone pockets proved themselves to be very productive because a lot of kids did not know how to regulate when it was time to put their phones away. Sometimes, a teacher only needed to say their phone policy once to get it across to students, but for those who couldn’t, phone pockets seemed like a feasible alternative. I had no complaints and agreed with the system. In middle school, there was a power structure, and that seemed to be working well enough for students and teachers. Ideally, those two years should have been enough for students to learn that their phone needed to be put away during class.
And then we were in high school! Freshman year at San Dieguito Academy. On my first day, two of my classes sat in circles to be more unified and have less of a “teacher is better than student” mentality. I was shocked. Teachers could be like this?
I made it to my third period class, and sure enough, there were the phone pockets. Resigned, I slipped my phone in and sat. This class did not stray from the middle school classes I had grown to know so well. I immediately knew that the environment was different. Placing your phone elsewhere for the length of one class is not a life-shattering experience, but it is also not the most positive first impression. This class ended up having a less comforting, more strict environment. The idea that kids would go on their phones nonstop if they weren’t removed was a harsh assumption on some teachers’ parts.
During distance learning, students could use their phones whenever, with no consequences. Coming back after a year and a half of unrestricted phone access is definitely an adjustment, and taking the time to go over this with students is important. I spent a lot of time on my phone during distance learning and going from all of that time to so much less required adaptation on my part.
There is also the matter of which phones are in the pockets. Having your phone on display could lead to a potentially uncomfortable situation regarding how nice everyones’ technology is and who has access to these new, expensive phones. It creates an awkward divide between students, in a literal display. When a student has their phone at their desk, they can immediately turn it off if someone calls or an unexpected alarm goes off. If the phones are up in the front of the classroom and one goes off, it takes much more effort to find the phone it’s coming from, and silence it. Taking into account all of these factors is important in the discussion of whether or not phone pockets increase productivity in classrooms.
Managing phone usage is indeed a difficult task. For some teachers, it might be easier to wipe out the problem entirely, and I understand this. Not having to nag students about using their phones provides more class time. However, using 20 minutes at the beginning of the year to have a clear discussion that includes the whole class to set boundaries and consequences as well as a system of trust could eliminate the issue.