The word from on high came only a couple of weeks before the Christmas break. Beginning the first day of spring semester, 2019: zero tolerance for cellphones in the classroom. I considered the email, controlled my hyperventilating, and thought to myself, surely they jest! Surely, they understand the dangers of placing oneself between a teenager and their lifeline to all things important. This must be a hoax! I inquired as to the email’s veracity. A hoax it was not.
I upgraded my life insurance and prepared, not sure what would come of me in the new year.
I slept not a wink those two weeks. I tossed. I turned. I comforted myself with carbohydrates; anything dull my anxiety. Nothing seemed to help. Almost five years in the trenches, I knew what I faced in early January.
The day came. I entered the classroom a little earlier than usual. I placed my laminated “technology not allowed” placard on my white board. I said a small prayer. I made the sign of the cross. I repeated the former and latter several times, trusting the Good Lord would not abandon me to the abyss.
Then they came. My students came into my class. They walked into the door and to their desks. I looked upon them for prohibited apparatus. I saw none. I thought, how could this be? Are these not the same young people who finished their lessons early so they could get on their phones? Were these not the very same students who about ten minutes into class asked for the bathroom pass and made sure they took their phone with them to the potty? These were my kids. But no electronic appendages extended from their hands. I gave praise. I pocketed my Prozac. Perhaps this ordeal would not be the end of me.
Once seated, I stated the new policy to my charges. Phones would be confiscated by the dean or principal and kept for the whole day. Students registered some complaint but no major resistance movement surfaced. I suggested that had they not been on their phones when we studied major resistance movements then perhaps they would know how to launch one of their own and agitate for a change in the new policy. I hoped that particular insight didn’t make it to the school district. I continue to hope so.
I knew my teaching would need to adjust if I was going to fill the gap that the cellphone moratorium left. Typically, until that fateful day, my students entered the room, phone in hand, and miraculously found their seats without benefit of the eyesight that they dedicated to the small bluish, moving screens in front of them. They remained entranced during roll call. When done, I would stand and say, “Okay, cellphones away please.” But, alas, my words fell on deaf ears, especially if the ears were stuffed with micro speakers and a musical genre I understand not.
At times, a few glances found me, as if to say, ‘Mister, you’re going to disconnect me with topics like religious syncretism in Latin America and Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox? I think not, Mr. P.’
Nature abhors a vacuum. Adolescents with nothing to do can topple governments and middle-aged white men like me. Inspiration found me. I would begin the hour with WOTD (word of the day) and follow that with SOTD (slide of the day). Some call that bell work, but I call it combat survival. Guess what. It worked! My students began to use the dictionary! I rejoiced. I made a Facebook appeal for more Webster Collegiate editions. People responded with generosity! The Word became a new, shiny dictionary and dwelt among my charges. My students responded to the slides. My principal liked my pedagogy. I felt like a real teacher! Sure, some of kids said, “Mister, we can do this faster on our phones.” No! I said it again, No!. The dictionary is your friend, it will take you on an adventure. Words are power. Vocabulary is life. A cellphone only gives you one definition at a time. Saint Webster gives you a lifetime of them!
They didn’t quite get my enthusiasm, but they cooperated, and for that I awarded them Polley Points. Then, more miracle, more goodness! When the lesson ended early, the moratorium still in place, some students began to do their work in other classes. A few began to read! I embellish not. They read without my prompting. My eyes blurred with tears of joy; satisfied, confident, unharmed.
It’s not been perfect. Confiscations happen. Grumpiness and other unpleasantness have manifested themselves. Vulgar, but common parlance has surfaced at the time of confiscation. But nothing insurmountable have I faced. We have survived the Great Cellphone Moratorium thus far. Reach high, Bisbee High Pumas. Strength. Honor. Multi-syllabic merriment forever.