What to do When Students Use Their Phone in Class

Most elementary schools and some high schools have a “no phone” policy in class. So what do you do when a student is brazenly using their phone and refuses to put it away or give it to you? For example, they say they are texting their mom back (it happens – I’m not sure why their mom is texting them during a school day …).

As a substitute teacher, I use humour for this. I say, “If I see or hear your phone, I have to take it away”. I keep repeating this emphasizing “see” and “hear” until they understand that as long as I don’t know they are using their phone, we won’t have a problem. Once they understand this, the students ask, “So if you can’t see or hear our phone, we can use it?” I always say, “No! The school rule is that if you use your phone, I have to take it away, but if I can’t see or hear it, I won’t take it away.” I also tell the students who are brazenly using their phone, “I can totally see your phone – don’t you know how to do this yet? You’re supposed to hide it in your desk so I can’t see it!”

Truthfully, humour works the best and I really don’t care if they are using their phone if I can’t see or hear it – because then I can’t do anything about it anyway and it’s not interrupting the class. If a student refuses to put it away and it’s disturbing the class, I get help from a nearby teacher or the office. Sometimes the students say that their teacher does let them use their phones – which may be true. In this case, I repeat my first statement, “If I can see or hear them, I will take them away”. They take this to mean that they can use them as long as I can’t see them.

The truth is, if it’s an easy class, as soon as I tell them to put their phones away, they will and if they don’t and I ask them to give me their phone, they will and then you don’t need this blog! As a substitute teacher, it’s really not worth it for me to try to take a student’s phone as this is much more likely to escalate a situation than I want to de-escalate so I can move on with the lesson. As l long as it’s not distracting other students, or inappropriate content they are looking at, sometimes I just leave the students to quietly use their phone.

1 Comment

  1. Paige

    Good line… “If I can see or hear your phone I will take it away”
    Totally using that one on Monday! Thanks!


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