Cell Phones in Canadian Classrooms? What’s the Problem?

If Ontario Premiere Doug Ford does this “The Conservatives have also promised to ban cellphones in all primary and secondary classrooms to “maximize learning time,” it will improve student learning.

If you don’t work in a classroom, you have no idea how damaging cell phones are to student learning. Let me try to explain it.

As teachers, we cannot take phones and parents rarely keep them at home. Why? Children and teen’s phones have become a right in our society.

With students spending up to 20% of their in-class time texting, emailing, and checking social media, it’s no wonder the debate about cell phones in the classroom is alive and well.


I get it. I’m a parent too. I’ve had calls and emails from my children’s teachers. Do I rip their computers away? Take away their phones? Well, if I do, they may no longer have technology to assist them in writing. Or not always have access to the Google classroom where the lessons are. They may no longer be part of their social group communication, because on phones is where students communicate. Even I struggle as a parent, and I know this…

If you have a child in secondary school, know that they will and are using their phones to watch videos, play games and communicate with others during lesson delivery. Remember passing notes in class? Imagine the bullying opportunities occurring in a class with cell phones. Imagine teaching while 10 students are texting hate language /cruel comments about another student in class and the snickering travels around and you can’t stop the “note”, or read it because its locked on cells you can’t open, can’t take and can’t stop. And you can’t prove it. You just know. Imagine dramatic reveals happening in class–break-ups, death notices, crime updates and more. One minute you’re teaching, the next, kids are crying and running out of the room. And you’ll never know why. Imagine kids texting helicopter /anxious parents from class who then show up at your door thinking their child is in crisis when they were laughing in class only minutes before.

All this goes on under desks while teachers are trying to deliver lessons. How many times will a teacher interrupt a lesson to instruct a student to “off and away”? 25 to 30 teens in a room. 45 mins to teach each subject lesson. 5 seconds to ask each student to put their phone away.

On any given day 80-90% start using phones in my class. They walk in with them in their hands. I ask each student up to 3 times. “Off and away, please” Some students pull the cell phone back out within minutes of being addressed. I then move to longer chats about impacts and goals. Those can take 2-3 mins. About 40% keep taking their phones out. By 3/4 through class I might get 90% working with a focus that is needed for productive learning. By the last 10-15 mins all phones are back out.

All this is happening while I should be instructing and rotating and assisting.

This is all time stolen from learning.

This is happening in varying degrees in every class, every day.

And the students without phones or who are listening and putting them away? They are having their learning time taken up by this daily struggle.

I know what you are tempted to think at this point. It’s easier to believe I am a bad teacher, and I cannot compete with cell phones. Let me assure you that I’m a multi award-winning teacher who is known for her engaging lessons and effective classroom management style.

Author receiving the award of teaching excellence

Children are missing out on learning because they are using their cell phones in class, and this is happening in varying degrees in every class, every day.

How long should I keep leaving the kids who are focussed on learning to re-instruct the others “off and away”? How many times should I instruct a student before I give up? The answer is never give up on any child. Of course it is. In my heart it is.

But consider. A teacher tells one student approx 10 times a class– “off and away”, plus a goal talk. On day 1….absolutely! Day 10? Still at it, maybe 5 instructs, even though parents have not supported by keeping the phone at home, but the goal talks will come weekly now. And the teacher is taking this time from teaching and from individually supporting other kids. Now, its day 30 and there is no change in the student’s cell phone behaviour. Do you think that student is still receiving dedicated guidance on behaviour? At the continued cost of lost learning time for other students? On DAY 60?

This is an immense social, class climate and academic problem that has not been resolved and teachers do not have the permission, parental support, or means to manage it. And teens do not have the self-regulation, training or will to manage the temptation. What will be the fall-out?

We need a government to set some guidelines and soon.

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