Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The 10 minutes of freedom / Thoughts on cell phones

I've posted the time schedules for the high school students here before. It occurred to me to expound on another huge difference between American and Korean high schools: Passing time.

I had five minutes between classes in high school in a school that was two floors tall and a quarter of a mile long. My Korean students, by contrast, have ten minutes between classes in a two floor school that’s scarcely longer than a city block. The school is smaller, to be sure, but the difference in passing time illustrates how different the school cultures are. Here, the students often break into pickup soccer games or bouts of grab-ass in the hallways. Their 10 minutes affords them ample opportunity to run with abandon or hold high-level huddles. Most days I can’t tell the difference in sound alone between the high school and the elementary school when classes are out because of the noise they make. The students’ passing time isn't monitored, so they have full license to relive elementary school. I've often thought that American high school students have to grow up too fast and never get time enjoy being kids; out here it’s the opposite; as strenuous as school life is, the students sure know how to run around. This is as interesting as it is irritating, because no one seems to care about what the students are doing or the noise they’re making.

The students always find a way to dawdle during passing time too. Despite having next to no distance to travel, my classes never seem to start on time thanks to students being late. The late starts also come from Korea’s culture of the class beginning when the teacher walks into the room, as opposed to the American idea of class beginning on time. As much as I’ve tried to adopt this Korean custom, I cannot abide by it. I cannot walk into class after it’s supposedly begun and then get the computer running. No, the computer and all the materials need to be ready to rock when class begins because it minimizes downtime. Being in the room before or when class begins also lets me catch anyone without their materials or break up arguments or squabbles between the kids. And there are plenty of them.

The students being students, they have an uncanny ability to manufacture the dramatics. They’ll somehow go from comatose to slap-happy at the sound of the bell. I don’t remember this ever happening in the States. If I or my classmates were tired during history class, we were tired after history class and we probably wouldn't wake up till lunch time. That’s not the case here. Maybe it’s that 10 minutes of freedom they have before they have to sit down and shut down again. They take that time for all it’s worth. I certainly didn't have any time to hang around doing nothing between classes like the Korean kids do. Then again, me and my peers never had smart phones in the dark ages of the early-mid 2000s.

And on that note, I’ll move on to another persistent issue in schools around the world: cell phones. It seems that by now some teachers either don’t care to confiscate all the students’ phones or the students have figured out ways of sneaking them into the school. Students are smart as hell when it comes to circumventing rules, so I’m better that some of them simply keep their phones in their backpacks until passing time comes. I’ve a “No phones” rule in my classes and despite the growing number of students bringing phones to class, there’ve been few problems with students disobeying the rule. I haven’t collected phones at the beginning of class because I want to trust people to take care of themselves. Telling them “Turn your phones off” seems to suffice for now. I’ve had to take some phones away, but no one’s ever thrown a fit about it. Most of the time, I simply grab the phone off the desk as I’m circulating the room and proceed to put it somewhere else. The students get the message: Play with your phone and I’ll swipe it.

Some of us have devised some other ways of handling cell phones in the classroom. Matt in Uncheon recently detailed his clever method here:
I take them away, and as they plead for them back, I look thoughtful and forgiving as I secretly take out the battery under my desk. I make them promise to not use the cell phone again in my class. I then hand it back to them, and almost inevitably, 3minutes later, when I'm not looking, they ignore my request and try to use it again and realize what I've done. It's amazing how often they out themselves with, "Teacher? Battery?"

I must say, it never occurred to me to remove the battery. One word of caution: iPhones don’t have removable batteries, so this tactic won’t work on them. It will work for every other kind of phone in Korea though.

So there you have it: Passing times and phones. Passing time’s long and the kids are unsupervised. Sixteen year olds in smart uniforms run around like six year olds on a playground. All of the kids have cell phones and most of them have smart phones.

For those teachers reading this, how do you handle cell phones in class? If you’d like to share something, please comment. If anyone has any thoughts on the generous passing times here, you can comment on them too.

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