When I retired from teaching in the spring of 2005, I thought I was pretty much done with being in schools. However, over the past several years I still do receive periodic glimpses into schools and the classrooms because I do have school accounts as a customer-service cleaning rep. And, during those moments, it’s pretty easy to be transported back in time when I was the one standing up in front of a classes, teaching lessons that I knew deep down were so very important despite what some of those in my audience thought.
Recently, while compiling information in a campus at a small college in Fort Wayne, I passed a classroom with a glass wall. As I walked by, I saw a relatively young teacher (well, at 68, almost all the teachers I see seem young) standing up in front of a well-lit, brand-new classroom beside a projected image on a screen pointing to sections of a pie chart as he delivered his lesson.
There in front of him were about a dozen students seated at lab tables with plenty of elbow room. Textbooks were open beside notebooks, and while most were listening intently to the lesson and periodically writing notes, there was one young lady that caught my eye. She was seated no more than 6 feet from the teacher. She had a smile on her face, not because of anything the teacher said but rather something someone must have passed along in a text. There she sat staring intently at her phone reading it before I saw her thumbs engaged texting a response.
Now, unless the teacher had zero peripheral vision, he surely had to take note of this and must have been annoyed. Every time I see one of these phone fiddlers when I’m in my school accounts, and I see it quite often as I walk the halls and peer into classrooms through open doors, I gaze up above and mouth the words “Thank you” to The Almighty for putting me in a cell-phoneless time period for the portion of my life I was commissioned to teach my lessons on the proper use of the English language.
Of course, in those pre-cell days from 1973 through 2005, there certainly were the Stone Age equivalents of cell-phone distractions, from occasional window gazers to those who thought proper posture was propping their noggins up with an open palm at a 45-degree angle over their desktops, issues I addressed with them as soon as I took note.
Since each year during the first few days of introduction to my troops I covered carefully such attention and posture-related annoyances in what I always called “Mr. G’s Pet Peeves,” I didn’t experience too many issues with my guys and gals. I think many might even today recall the line I used in those first few days of school during my getting-to-know-me phase. It was a good way to introduce the figure of speech hyperbole when I said I expected them to listen to me when I was teaching as if I were going to tell them the winning lotto numbers for the next Saturday’s drawing.
Of course, I did have a few moments when I had to reinforce my attention-and-posture expectations over the course of the year, but, my, would I ever have had fits if someone ever pulled out a cell phone during a lesson while I was trying to deliver the tools they needed to construct effective sentences, paragraphs and essays or to know enough not to split their infinitives, to recognize the difference between gerunds and present participles or to know what an Oxford comma is and how it’s used in an items-in-a-series sentence.
I sometimes wonder what I’d have done had my moment in time in education been in the current cell-phone era, when pretty much every student has one.
Would I make them file into class and put them in a box on silent mode, checking them much like some modern version of cowboys checking their guns when they entered no-carry towns in the mid-19th century? Or, would that have caused blow-back from some parents who insisted that junior never be separated from his phone.
I’m sure most of the wave of teachers who’ve entered classrooms after I left my last one have figured a way to minimize phone distractions. But, I’ve seen with my own eyes there are indeed those distractions.
While there is much I will always miss about my teaching days, all things considered, when I think of the potential irritants that come with all that social media in our current days, I’m glad, when it comes to classrooms, that I’m on the outside looking in.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.