Phones in the Classroom


Can we use cell phones in the classroom?


That all depends on who “we” is…the students or the teacher. Let’s address students first.

This website is dedicated primarily to elementary school best teaching practices, and students at that level should not be allowed to use cell phones in the classroom, period. Most children between the ages of 5 and 12 are highly distracted by this handy device. Even the thought of it in their backpack can drive them to distraction.

And…we don’t need kids mastering texting abbreviations before they even learn to spell words the correct way!

What do you do when one shows up? Even a non-working one that a student considers to be a toy? Since you’ve set expectations early in the year, there should be no question…but, yes, it happens.

A student brought a dead cell phone to school just to “play cool.” I took the phone, called his mom and let her know she could come get it or pick it up at conferences. Simple and effective.

For real cell phones, usually there is a school or district policy about their use. If there isn’t a policy against bringing them to elementary school (which, as noted above, there should be), these rules should apply:

  • Students must keep them turned OFF and in their backpack until after the final bell rings
  • If backpacks are unsecured ruing the day, give the students the option of putting their phone in your locked desk OR giving them to the office to hold
  • Under no circumstances are the students allowed to keep them in their desks

TIP: If your building doesn’t already have a policy on cell phone use, that is one item that should be addressed without fail.

Parent Permission for Cell Phones – Just Say “No”

If a parent of an older elementary student states that their child needs to have their cell phone available in the classroom to call in case of emergencies, your answer is:

“Your child is never unsupervised during the day. If she needs to contact you, she will be able to do that. Just be certain your contact numbers are updated in the office.”

Teacher Cell Phone Use

Touchscreen smartphoneIf the “we” you are referring to in the question is the classroom teacher, it depends on the purpose for using it. Cell phones in the classroom can be a productive tool for a tech-savvy teacher…if used judiciously.

I use my smart phone daily in the classroom for specific educational purposes. For example, I have timers set for the times when certain students need to report to the office to receive medication. I also use the “flip a coin” application when teaching probability. It is highly engaging.

At times, I have been asked a pertinent, on-topic question when I am presenting at the whiteboard, a question that required a quick internet search to answer. An example might be:

So how many tons of apples did Washington state export to Japan last year?

If the question is not appropriate to save for later to look up on the classroom computers, I have quickly researched it on my smart phone, expanded the display and placed the result under the document camera for all to see.

This demonstrates the nature of information access in our connected, know-it-now world. These are the same kids who will be sitting in meetings as adults answering questions as they arise, rather than tabling matters for next week while someone researches them. It doesn’t hurt to see this in action in the classroom.

Let me reiterate: I only use my cell phone in the classroom when students are present for educational purposes and will even write it into my lesson plans if it warrants it. Teacher professionalism does not encompass texting or calling/answering calls during class.

Personal use

If you have small children at home and are worried about the “what if’s”, make sure you have a plan that includes calling your school’s office in case of illness or emergency as the first step…not texting. You know you won’t be able to resist a text alert of any sort if you think it might be about your kids, so don’t even go down that path. Your school office will inform you right away of true child-care emergencies.

Teacher professionalism at all times!

Your students need to feel that they are your number one priority when you are together in the classroom. Best teaching practices regarding cell phones in the classroom can reinforce that if used with a student focus in mind.