Is this rude?


Photo by Jason Wun

I’m not talking about what I do with it. Just the device itself.

Is it rude?

I realize that people can use it in rude ways, but does that make the thing itself rude?

I ask this question because after sharing my experience that my previous post describes with some colleagues, the reaction I got was something like “Oh, well … I mean, that’s unfortunate, but it was a cell phone.”

And when I ask, “So if it had been a lap top, or my iPad, or a piece of paper, would it have been rude?” the response is “No, I don’t think that would be considered rude.”

So what is it about the cell phone that immediately makes some people automatically attach labels like “rude” “unprofessional” and “off-task”?

I think this is a case of residual anachronistic perceptions about what cell phones are used for, and at the risk of sounding ageist, I think it’s (sometimes) generational. I’m not sure when the last time was I actually used my iPhone as a phone–actually yes I do. I used it to do a Facetime call with my friend who lives in Alberta. The rest of the time I use my phone to text, send email, blog, enter information into my calendar, listen to music, search the web, and jot down ideas.

I suspect that those colleagues who winced when I said “cell phone” are the same people who, if they own a cell phone, only use it as a phone, and therefore have a hard time understanding how it can be used for learning purposes. And this is not an ageist thing, now that I think about it because I have a colleague who is younger than I am and she also winces a bit when I talk about cell phones in the classroom.

My friend Royan ominously commented on my previous post that:

Seriously though, I think your little experience has touched on a growing divide in our systems. I think there’s something of a quiet civil war occurring.

A quiet civil war? Yikes! I’d hate to think that’s really happening. Don’t we have more important things to worry about than the devices students (or teachers) use for learning? Shouldn’t we be worried about the learning itself?

Getting Off the Comfy Couch

I’ve been thinking about the “comfort zone.” I regularly hear teachers say (and I admit I’ve probably said all these things), “I love teaching that unit” or “I couldn’t give up teaching that novel. I love it!” or “I don’t want to teach that because I’m not comfortable with it.” I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with loving the content you are teaching or the strategy by which you teach it, but at what point should we step outside our comfort zones and ask ourselves, “But what are the kids getting out of it?”

Just because we love something, doesn’t mean our students will or that it’s necessary for them to love it in order to be successful.

That being said, many of my interests were shaped by the interests and passions of my teachers. Would I have fallen in love with the writing of Margaret Atwood were it not for Mrs. Harvey? Would I have found Jungian psychology remotely interesting were it not for Mr. Williams? Would I have developed such a viceral dislike for Ken Danby were it not for Mr. Hammel? Maybe. Maybe not. I was quite the people pleaser as a student. I dove into subjects and topics that my teachers showed an interest in because I wanted them to take interest in me The by-product was that I studied hard and asked a lot of questions. Maybe not the best example of intrinsic motivation, but it worked for me.

The thing is, most of the students we teach are not like us. One of the reasons we are teachers is because we were pretty successful at the game of school. I think sometimes we forget that. We get frustrated when our students aren’t like us. But why should they be like us?

Okay, okay, so my point: Every day we expect students to do things that they don’t love or find comfortable or even relevant, because we think these things are important. We accept the idea that it takes time for a student to master a new skill, and that a student might not find something interesting, but it’s still important for them to understand that thing (I should mention I’m not talking about the curriculum expectations here, but they way we approach those expectations. Nowhere in the Ontario secondary English curriculum document is the study of Hamlet mandated. Even though I love it.).

How often do we ask the same of ourselves?

Why should we only teach things that we find comfortable and familiar? Why should my love of A Streetcar Named Desire earn the play a place on my syllabus? I think you can make a case for saying that if a teacher is truly passionate about a certain piece of text or a certain topic, he or she might do a better job teaching with it. I just don’t think that personal taste should be the only deciding factor when it comes to choices about teaching.

More importantly, I think we should step outside our comfort zones every once in a while and ask ourselves, “Do the kids find this as engaging as I do?” and if the answer is no, “Is there another way that I could meet this curriculum expectation that the kids would find engaging?”

And why not think about letting our students teach us something for a change? After all, we’re in this for them aren’t we?

Photo credit: emdot