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Cell phones: The not-so-silent killers of children’s academic success

Parents, I beg you, come into my Montgomery County classroom and observe your child learning. I want you to see it for yourself.

Test scores are plummeting. National averages are tanking. Student ambition is dying. Every indication tells us we are moving backwards.

We ask why, as if we don’t know already.

I’ll tell you, without understatement: However bad you think it is, I promise you it’s worse. Many of your children are spending their 47 minutes in my classroom playing video games, streaming movies, watching sports, scrolling through an endless supply of TikTok posts, taking selfies and texting mom. (Between you and me, they always tell me it’s mom.) I guarantee you that with phone in hand, your child is not learning what they could be learning. How can they?

At the beginning of every class, I tell students to silence their phones and put them away. When they don’t do it, I canoodle, I warn, I threaten, I assign detention, I give zeros. I’ve plastered my classroom walls with “NO PHONE” posters; created “cellphone-asaurus’ out of a cardboard box that gobbles phones at will; given points to students who turn phones in to me before class; reminded them constantly throughout the period (which takes time from content).

But I am no match. And by telling you this, I admit I am part of the problem. If I can’t reach them after three asks, with detentions assigned, I give up and move on. And no parent wants to hear that your child’s teacher has given up. I’ve worked hard at classroom management for 16 years. And here I am admitting I am an ineffective teacher. But I’m tired of it. And parents, I need your help.

Today, after telling one of my charges to stop playing whatever video game was more important than my grammar lesson, he asked me, without irony, how he could raise his grade. WITHOUT. TAKING. HIS. EYE. OFF. OF. THE. GAME. Hand-eye coordination? Yes. Chutzpah? Sure. Clueless? Absolutely.

Every day is the same with this student and scores of others I teach. And they aren’t learning from past mistakes. Every day I repeat the same diatribe to the same students. I’ll tell you why they fail: their snapchat addiction is drowning out their competitive edge. I know these students want to be successful. But they can be powerless in the face of game pigeon.

Is your child coming to school but being marked absent? They are roaming the school hallways on their phone.

Are they late to class? They have lost their way because of you-know-what.

Did your child miss the homework assignment, the project, the test announcement? It’s because they are listening to the latest Dua Lipa drop during class.

Did your child recently receive a C on an assignment when they could have easily received an A? It’s because they were texting with a friend and missed the directions.

Is your child panic-writing an essay at 1a.m. that I gave them three days in class to complete? They may have watched March Madness during class instead.

Montgomery County Public Schools is doing very little about it. (They have a policy, but with the number of infractions, it can be difficult to enforce). You aren’t doing anything about it. I’m not doing anything about it. Certainly your children aren’t doing anything about it. And for this reason, we are failing them. These are kids. We are adults. Why can’t our school system, who professes to care for kids, enforce a policy to keep phones out of the classroom? We have all witnessed the unfortunate decline, the tumbling grades, the unrecognizable report cards.

Believe me, I understand the post 9/11 world. I live the danger of potential unwanted violence daily. I get that you want contact with your children at all times. You love them. Of course you do. But I’m telling you in no uncertain terms, they can’t handle this device, and it’s killing their potential.

Teachers have been lamenting this for years in our staff lounges. It’s time that you know. It will not stop until all of us parents demand our children be educated. If it’s going to come from anyone, it’s going to come from parents. MCPS will listen to parents. No one else has the ability to care enough.

But first, put your phone down. Come to my classroom. I apologize in advance for what you’ll see.


Christopher Goodrich, MFA

 — The writer is an English teacher and forensics coach at Sherwood High School

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