Dear Professor T------,
I am writing this email to you in the hopes that you will not be offended, but I feel the need to express my unhappiness about one of your class policies after certain things happened in class today (I think you know what I am referring to). I am talking about your policy regarding cell phones in class. I understand that you do not like students to use them (you say it all the time!) but I find your policy to be WAY harsh and I am not just saying this because you yelled at me today for using mine. The fact is, I did not intend to use my phone during class but I received a very important text from my boyfriend about a personal matter that I needed to respond to right away because he and I going through a hard time right now. You need to understand that sometimes things happen and we have to respond because that is life. I know that rules are rules but I think you were very disrespectful of me when you spoke to me the way you did in front of the entire class in the way that you did. Before today you were of my favorite teachers here but after your this I am sorry but I will have to rethink that belief.
I hope you will reconsider your cell phone policy for other students who deserve to be respected and not ridiculed as you did with me today. We are paying a lot of money to go here and teachers like you do not make it easier.
Thanks for your email. Like all teachers, I'm always eager to receive feedback from students, whether their suggestions are about my curriculum, classroom policies or fashion choices. On behalf of teachers everywhere, I salute your directness and honesty.
You should know that my cell phone policy has gone through several adjustments over the past several years, based on my experience with students. You know, at first I didn't even have a policy about phones in my classes. Can you believe that? The idea that a student would allow his/her phone to ring during a class session, let alone use said phone, was unthinkable! And inconceivable! Surely, I thought, any decent person with a modicum of awareness of his/her surroundings knows better than to allow such a blatant disruption! We live in a civilized nation, do we not?
That was before I had a student allow her Kanye West ring tone to go off at full volume in the middle of a class. I was leading a discussion about the use of logical fallacies in famous political speeches. The ring tone was West's tour de force collaboration with Daft Punk entitled Stronger ("You know how long I been on ya/Since Prince was on Appollonia/Since OJ had Isotoners/Don't say that I never told ya"). Such an awesome song, right?
However: while the song is a true new millenium classic by a humble musical icon, it didn't contribute to our discourse that day. I was shocked that the student allowed her phone to go off. I was even more shocked when she answered the phone and proceeded to have a conversation with the caller about where they should go for lunch later. Right there in the middle of class. While I waited. With the vein in my forehead starting to throb in anger.
So the next semester, I added a cell phone policy to my syllabi.
At first, my policy was a gentle one. It read: "Please avoid letting cell phones go off in class, to minimize disruption." Very non-confrontational, I felt. I mean, I said please and everything.
But then I started noticing that my students were looking down into their laps frequently during class. At first I just thought those students were just oddly curious about their post-adolescent development, gazing down at themselves in wonder. After all, most Freshmen are in their late teens, possibly still learning about their bodies. Sure, it's inappropriate to stare intently into one's own groin in a classroom, but better than staring into the groin of one's neighbor, am I right?
And I realized that those same students who were staring downwards also seemed to be experiencing a strange neon glow originating from their laps and illuminating their faces. It concerned me: were they experiencing some sort of rapture? Were they actually aliens preparing to shed their human flesh shells and emerge as brilliantly lit, amorphous creatures like in the classic mid-80s film Cocoon?
I later discovered that, while students were technically adhering to my policy by not allowing their phones to make noise, they were instead texting, albeit silently, under their desks. And weren't smart enough to turn the brightness of their screen displays down.
I don't mind telling you that was a difficult day for me, Brittany.
I don't mind telling you that was a difficult day for me, Brittany.
Shocked, I was. Absolutely shocked and appalled that students would find such a devious way to use their phones in class. Because you see, fair Brittany, the real point here is that, when you're in class, you really should be focusing on that class' agenda, rather than texting friends about where to do for lunch, or what color nail polish will be appropriate for the party next weekend, or whether or not Josh was lying when he said never hooked up with Ashley during Winter Break, which is such a lie because everyone knows Ashley is such a total slut.
So I revised my policy again. It read: "Please do not allow your cell phone to disrupt class proceedings. Doing so is disrespectful to both the teacher, and your fellow students."
I felt this was direct. And polite. Hell, I kept please in there.
It didn't work. Students insisted on peeking at their phones in their backpacks. They kept trying to text. And every once in a while, their phones would sound off in the middle of class. When that happened, I would halt the proceedings, search for the student with the guilty look on his/her face, present my Expression of Extreme Disapproval and wait for them to quail, feel appropriately chagrined, turn their phone off, and return their attention to the class session. It usually worked.
But I still felt the need to revise my policy once more. My subsequent statement about cell phones is the one currently articulated in your course syllabus, which I reiterated to everyone on the first day of the semester: "Please turn off all cell phones before entering this room. Leave them off until class is done. Do not check your phone during class. Do not text during class. Do not look at your phone during class. Consider this fair warning; violating this policy will have an immediate impact on your in-class participation grade."
I do not know how to be clearer than this, Brittany. And you'll note that I still say goddamn please.
I'm sorry you feel I showed you some disrespect today when I asked you to put your phone away. From my perspective, I was quite polite. I asked if you were texting. You look up from the bright, otherwordly purplish glow of your phone and said, "No." I said, "Brittany, I'm certain that you are. Rather than lie about it, just put the damn phone away." You revealed that you did in fact have a phone in your lap, which you turned off. You exhaled audibly through your nose, and mumbled something I couldn't quite make out. An abject apology, surely.
Perhaps I shouldn't have used profane language when I addressed you. But I didn't think the word "damn" was inappropriate, considering how often I hear you walk into class while in the middle of a phone conversation, littering your own side of the dialogue with language that would make a sailor call home and apologize to his mother. You often seem to be speaking to a romantic partner on your phone when you arrive. Earlier this week, your final sign-off before hanging up was: "Oh yea? Well Fuck you, Shane. Fuck you with a fucking nine-foot pole. I hope your dick shrivels up and falls off."
Perhaps the "personal matter" you were texting about in class today had something to do with Shane's medical problem. If his dick had in fact shriveled up and fallen off, and he needed you to take him to see a doctor, I must admit that would qualify as both a personal matter, and an emergency situation that couldn't wait.
For now, I will be keeping my cell phone policy as is, even though it will knock me off your Favorite Teacher list. But again, I thank you for your constructive advice. I do hope you won't hesitate to suggest other ways that my class could be improved. I look forward to hearing from you.
Please give Shane my best wishes for a full recovery.
P.S. You might be interested to know that other teachers actually have far more stringent rules about cell phones than I. Check out this video. I'm pretty sure it's faked, but it could inspire me change my policy again someday.