Education Parenting Technology

Stealth-Mode Purse Texters: OMG!

As if The Mosquito Ringtone isn’t enough (see a few blogs back: 5/22/10), teachers also have to worry about making sure students aren’t texting in class. At Monroe Community College, once in a while, I’ve seen students swishing around in their backpacks and purses for extended periods of time. I usually approach these students and quietly tell them to turn off their cell phones. I want my students to know that I notice what they are doing, that their behavior matters to me.

In “How to Successfully Text During Class: Using Your Purse,” Laura Mae instructs students on how they can master stealth-mode texting. She writes:

First, [get a big floppy purse]. Instead of holding your purse in your lap, try laying it sideways on your desk. Keep the opening … facing toward you. Place your phone near the opening. … Your teacher won’t be able to … see your phone … because he/she will be at his/her desk. So you’re good there. If they suspect something and get up to walk around, casually, without looking, push your cellular device back into your purse with your finger just enough so you’re [sic] phone is covered.

If you have a Qwerty keyboard, you can text, but not as easily as if you have an original keypad. If you do have an original keypad, … memorize how many times you need to press each button for the desired letter. I believe every phone has that little bump in the number 5, so that should be easy to navigate to the letters if you find it. Example: While your [sic] not looking, move your finger to the number five. Move up one key. Press three times. Wait a few seconds. Press once. Move back to the center. Move down one key. Press once. I just spelled “cat.”

The dozens of grammar errors in Laura Mae’s article make it clear to me that Laura Mae has not been listening to her instructors for a while. How could she possibly be paying attention when her brain is expending so much energy on composing blind messages as well as thinking about where she has to place her fingers and how many times she has to tap-tap-tap in order to send her messages so that they will be coherent upon receipt? Or maybe it isn’t so much that she isn’t paying attention, but that she seems to care more so much more about her social life than fine-tuning or editing her ideas, important skills which she will need to draw upon in the future.

The pervasiveness of text-messaging in class poses problems for teachers, particularly in the area of  test security, as students can send answers or hints to fellow students via cell phones, destroying the integrity of an entire test with a few keystrokes. Obviously, cheating damages classroom culture, but this is not really the main issue in my essay driven classroom. More annoying is the fact that instruction is interrupted when someone is caught texting. Then the problem extends beyond breaking the rules and not paying attention because instructors have to stop teaching to handle the situation, disrupting the learning environment, wasting time and tuition.

Some people will give me their best Darwinian argument: Students who honestly pay attention will do well on their tests and papers and end up doing better in life then those who are screwing around with their cell phones in class, so let the texters text and grow up to be ditch-diggers. I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy into that argument: Not at the college level and not at the high school or middle school levels either. And my reasons only partially have to do with concern over future skills. I’m genuinely concerned with civility and respect: Two other important values Americans seem to be eagerly flushing down the toilet.

Is it really so much to ask to turn off the technology and respectfully tune-in to and engage with other humans for 50 minutes?


15 thoughts on “Stealth-Mode Purse Texters: OMG!

  1. No, it’s definitely not too much to ask but any teen – 20-something won’t agree. No matter how many ways you phrase your argument, they won’t agree. It’s a generation thing. I can’t wait ’til they’re the teachers and have to figure out how to teach with everyone texting while they are trying to get through a lesson.

  2. The thought of anyone texting during class makes me upset. I know it happens, I just hope my child isn’t doing it. We’ve talked about respect as it relates to cellphone usage. I just don’t think it’s getting through to the majority of people how rude it is. And it’s not just kids. Look around any board meeting, restaurant, etc. People are texting. Back to classroom behavior, I would imagine that cheating is getting out of hand due to kids having cellphones. It is not ok to say that the good kids will be fine and let the others do as they wish and pay the consequences later. We all end up paying the consequences of a population of under educated, unskilled workers and a culture of disrespect.

    I think I will be having another talk with my child.

  3. During my 3 hour long classes in grad school, texting was less of an issue than those of my classmates playing games on their iPhones. I can’t have my laptop open in class or else I’ll start surfing. I know this. It is why I rarely brought my computer to school. And I didn’t put games on my phone until after graduation.

    The only times I do remember texting during class was to let my boyfriend know when he needed to pick me up- and I could usually do this during our 10 minute break. There is nothing so urgent that you need to text in class. If you are waiting for an important message- it should be critical enough that you inform your professor at the beginning of class that you are waiting for a message or call.

    1. Cole, so graduate students are playing games? Sigh. I love how you recognize the temptations that are out there, so you opt out of bringing the technology rather than give in to a quick check to the Facebook account. How many people do you think exercise that same restraint? May you go far!

  4. Being a middle schooler and having an unlimited messaging plan, I disagree to a point. I keep my phone in my pocket during school or else my binders set it off.

    I will occasionally text my mom to ask her an important question that cannot wait until I get home. Recently though, she has informed me that she and my father don’t have an allowance of more than about 250 messages a month. This being said, I have to be quite careful when I send them and have cut down quite a bit between messages.

    I very rarely message my friends during school. If I am in study hall or lunch, I may text one of them asking where they are if we need to go see a teacher.

    Phones ARE NOT allowed in my school. They will be taken away and given to our VP if caught being used. Nobody is careful though, and the eighth grade teachers aren’t very strict. If a phone goes off, or you’re caught texting, usually the teacher will say “Put it away, and I don’t want to see it again.”

    I am not for and I am not against cell phone use during school. I feel it honestly depends on the situation. It seems like adults and teenagers have all become so dependent on technology, that if we don’t have it at all times, it’s almost as if we might go through withdrawal.

  5. Sam, I am curious: Can you give me an example of a question that is so important that it could not wait until you get home? I ask because I was once a middle-schooler, and I am thinking really hard and, honestly, there was almost nothing that I did during my school day that required any kind of urgent or immediate parental response.

    Or, if something weird did happen (like once I fractured my foot), it was a true emergency where I wound up in the nurse’s office (where they tried to call my home or emergency contacts). The only other situation I can think of where I might have wanted to talk to a parent would have been if I had done something illegal or hurtful to another student and, again, the school would likely have been involved and done the calling. And it wouldn’t have been pretty. I would have been in big trouble.

    I wonder if kids’ perception of what “cannot wait” has changed, just because now it is so easy to make contact. Back in the day (B.C. – before cellphones), I would have needed at least one quarter and a payphone to call my parents. And even then, they might not have been near the corded phone. Because I couldn’t call or text mommy, I learned to wait. I learned to figure things out on my own. I learned independence. I know my father would have been furious with me if I interrupted his work day with what I am sure he would have considered trivial texts.

    I’m also thinking that it is a big problem when a school has a policy (no cellphones in school) that it cannot (or chooses not) to enforce. But I agree with you when you say adults and teens alike have become very dependent on our technology.

  6. Well, an urgent case, I guess you might say, isn’t all that urgent to you. I do things with my friends after school, therefore I need to let my mom know what time to pick me up. Also, the cheer season has just wrapped up, but while it was going on if I had found out my ride couldn’t take me or if I leave my clothes, I need them for practice after school. Also, my mom is as much to blame here too! If she needs to tell me something that pertains to her absence when I get home, or if she will need to pick me up, etc. These are the type of things that in my mind “can’t wait.”

  7. I am a middle school teacher and we do NOT allow phones at all during the school day. If we catch them, and we do often enough, the phones are taken away and the parents have to get them. If it happens a second time, they are taken away for good. It is harsh according to the kids, but my answer to them is, your parents know where you are all day and you don’t need to text/call them. If they need to ask permission to stay after of have a “burning” need to talk to a parent, I let them use the phone in my room. Other than that, you don’t need a phone at school, you see your friends, and if they aren’t in school then they miss out. As far as after school for sports or whatever, then it may be a different issue.

    As a college teacher for graduate EDUCATION students, I ask them to please not text during class, but because they are “adults” and many of them have lives – children and such, I allow them to take phone calls if they need to outside the class. I have NEVER had an issue. However, my husband is a professor for undergrads and texting goes on all the time during class. They also bring their laptops and play games during class. I told him to use a little proximity when he lectures, and he has changed his classes and gets them up out of their seats for activities – which they despise, but they can’t text or get online. It FORCES them to learn. At 40,000 a year, I hope their parents will appreciate that. As we are teaching skills for 21st century learning, we may be fighting a losing battle. I do hope I’m wrong.

  8. So, why not incorporate the new technologies in the class room instead of fighting them?!? Texting is no different than note passing, day dreaming, doodling or sleeping. The real question should be how does the teacher keep the student engaged. It is not a technology problem it is a classroom management problem.

  9. DH, I would argue texting is different from daydreaming, doodling or sleeping because those activities only impact the individual who is engaged in them. One person, singular. When students text in class (and they aren’t supposed to be) it affects classroom climate and culture. It undermines the teacher’s authority because the kids know what’s going on, and usually the teacher is out of the loop: the stupid one. I agree texting is more like note-passing, but it comes with accompanying bells and whistles (and pings and buzzes) that were absent with the long lost art of note-passing.

    I think texting can be a problem because it teaches the idea that school policies can be ignored. That can make things confusing to students, who may assume other rules will not to be taken seriously either (like plagiarism, etc.).

    I’m not sure how a teacher could “incorporate” texting into the classroom.

    Can you give me an example?

    1. Group collaboration. These kids must be ready for a 24x7x365 world where international business is conducted at 3 am from a cellphone.

      Effective communications in 300 characters or less is the norm. How about a project where one team tries to collaborate with the other side of the room? Let them learn what the limitations of text based communications are…what can be done via text? What is lost when the human element is removed? Can a text/email message have an incorrect tone or lead to a misunderstanding? Why is face to face important? Are people braver when they are not face to face? The whole dimension of communications can be explored by limiting the choices. Have them send a paper via text messages.

      1. Ooooh! These are cool ideas! (I may use them with my college students!) So in a controlled, instructional environment, I’m diggin’ the concept. What I’m objecting to is kids texting other kids (and playing games) during school hours.

  10. DH, I agree that we need to learn how to use these technologies in a way to engage students as it is the 21st century, however, at this point they have been used for cheating, and sending naked pictures from school bathrooms, texting friends in the middle of class etc. Plus, not all kids have phones. So, until these issues have a solution, 6th grade is not ready. High school and college may become a different story sooner than later.

  11. As a middle schooler, I have texting just like most other 7th graders. The only time anything has included school and a purse and a phone, is when I forget to turn it off. I hide my phone in my purse and shut it off. I never look, touch, or think about it again. At first I was obsessed. I felt awful if someone didn’t text me or wasn’t texting me. Now, I feel like I have a life and it feels much more balanced. I think about my future a lot too, though. I want to have a good social life, but at this point, I want to work on my studies more.

    I just had a talk with my mom the other day about studying more because I will be in 9th grade math next year and 10th grade science. Being an athlete, this leaves me little down time except for sleeping and leisurely reading. Less hanging out with friends too. What is just as bad as texting in school, if not worse, is involving it in religious practices. I texted my friend once, and was at a loss of things to say, so I asked what was up. She said she was in church! She said she was allowed to, but i didn’t buy it.

    Another time involved me learning my own lesson. I was texting my friend once and told him I was eating dinner (I was allowed to). He said he would stop texting me until I was done eating dinner because it was more manner-like. Ever since, I only text when my mom is texting too or we are in front of the tv. Being someone who cares about learning and being successful in the future, I doubt I will ever text during class (unless we are told we are allowed to).

  12. Hello – This is Marete’s mom. As the mother of a 7th grader, I think it is not outside the realm of appropriate to consider the ‘group collaboration’ idea with middle schoolers. Their WHOLE LIVES (as they see it) are run by texting.

    It has become for many of them, the primary source of communicating with each other. Unfortunately that includes times when there is a disagreement.

    It is not an effective way to communicate but it is what they know and are comfortable with. When I suggested my daughter call someone’s home phone the other day, she told me it felt weird to do that because the parent might pick-up. Remember when we KNEW the parent would pick up the phone?

    AND, as a friend put it to me, “It is easy to be brave sitting behind a keyboard.” It is real easy to slip into very unacceptable language and choices when kids are texting each other. So why not raise their awareness?

    I believe that it is (primarily) the parent’s job to do that, but the schools could add to that heightened awareness, too.

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