Confessions of a Cell Phone Terrorist

The Monster in the Mirror

By Claudia Felske — Ever experience a disconnect between you and what you see in the mirror?

Ever run across an old photo of yourself, and seriously wonder Who IS that?!

I did. Just the other day. But it was a verbal photograph, handed to me by my husband.

He recalled (with great detail) a Claudia six years my younger, who at the time was seriously obsessed with acquiring a cell phone jammer to block her student’s cell phone use in class. She had just returned from scoring AP English essays exams in Louisville, where she had audaciously pledged, along with several of her AP Reader colleagues, to get a cell phone jammer in their classrooms in order to ensure the integrity of their profession.

She spending the better part of a week researching cell phone jammers: how they work, how much they cost, where to get them. (Note her intentional use of the third person, distancing herself from her former self). Though research quickly revealed that cell phone blockers were illegal in the Unites States (still are), that users were prosecuted for theft (of cell phone service) and endangerment (preventing life-pending communication), that fines of $11,000 were issued upon first violation, her determination remained unflapped.

The safety issue, however, did concern her: she’d have to find a blocker that would stay within the confines of her classroom, ensuring administrators and others could receive cell phone reception in the halls outside her room. It would be a tricky endeavor, but after dedicating 14 years of her life to her craft, she could hardly sit by idly while students used their cell phones to text each other answers, photograph her tests, and troll online while they were supposed to be learning.

Her professional integrity was endangered, and so the risk of using an illegal device to save her livelihood was an easy choice. Besides, if she got caught, the righteousness of her mission would be self-evident. Waving to the courthouse camera in a tailored suit with matching sensible heels, she’d become a media darling, representing the very founding principles of public education.

Umm, not quite…and enough third person already.

Long story short: I was never able to find a jammer precise enough to reliably stay within my classroom. And so, the digital age and I had a face off; happily, it won.

Funny now to be reminded of my former self. While nothing else about me has radically changed in the past 6 years, the person hell-bent on installing a cell phone scrambler in her classroom and my current self could not stand in greater opposition.

My current students are encouraged to bring their phones to class. They can zap a QR code upon entry to my room to access my syllabus and today’s agenda. They can backchannel on their phones during class, adding to the class discussion by typing on a group chat without waiting to be called on, they can collaborate on each other’s google docs, collect running data on their progress, engage in research and extension activities—all on the device that I wanted to block.

Perhaps most interesting to me upon visiting my recent former self is realizing that I felt as serious and justified in my jammer acquisition as I do about my BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy today.

So why the change? How did I go from cell phone terrorist to BYOB enthusiast?

I think what happened is that I paid attention to the world around me. I go to conferences, I read journals, I discuss and collaborate on listserves and electronic discussion boards. I hear about what’s new, what’s working, what’s effective in the classroom, and I change, modify, and integrate accordingly.

When I started teaching, we didn’t have email or electronic gradebooks; Ten years ago, we didn’t have SMART Boards or smart phones; Five years ago, we didn’t have iPads or  netbooks, two years ago, we didn’t have MOOCs,  gamification, flipped classrooms and hardly a word  was spoken about “Personalized Learning.” Now we have  them all, and next year, more likely next month, they’ll be  more. And while none of these are the panacea for the  challenges faced in education today, none of them mark the  fall and decline of education as we know it.

We need to be a part of our students’ world, not apart from our students’ world.

My husband (science teacher) also reminded me that dinosaurs didn’t become extinct because of a great meteor strike, they became extinct because they couldn’t adapt to their changing environment.  So while I can laugh now at my anti-cell phone self of yesteryear, I can also be kind of proud to realize that unlike the dinosaurs, I’ve evolved.

How ’bout you?

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