How Can Teachers Control Cell Phones In Their Class?

How Teachers Can Control Cell Phones In Their Class

by Dan Henderson, Author of That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching

Create A Cell Phone Jail

Have you ever tried to have students leave their cell phones in their lockers and a mysterious glow comes from under their desk? I got tired of the cell phone shuffle and created a cell phone jail. My students had to check in their phones when class started. This accountability and equity eventually leads to focused minds in the classroom.

Call Parents On FaceTime or Skype and Have Student Sign A Contract

I had students and parents sign a contract saying that they would not allow cell phones during instructional time. If a student smuggled a phone into the classroom, I would call the parents on FaceTime. Picture a mom on a screen telling their child they are grounded for having a cell phone in class. I only had to do this once and then the threat of FaceTime calls were enough to bring order to would be cell phone smugglers.

Use Cell Phones In The Classroom In A Structured Way

Instead of taking away the privilege of using cell phones use this technology to your advantage. Set up a trivia competition or research topic that requires them to use information from the internet. The biggest problem with this is off task cell phone usage. Try controlling students cell phone searches by placing the classroom in teams and setting up timed competitions. When you make the internet entertaining to find sources or to answer trivia questions you help minimize status updates.

A Story About Cell Phones From My Classroom

I started to take away cell phones in my fifth grade classroom because of the constant disruptions. To trust my students to leave them in their backpacks was no longer an option. As a teacher, texting is a constant distraction during any lesson. As a teacher in the 21st century one problem I face are necks constantly bent downwards, while faces glow bright with the latest digital download.

The students with bent necks, all have the same bland expression. Similar to an apocalyptic zombie event. Lifeless feet drag emotionless corpses into the school, with a never ending quench to download, not blood, but social updates. Are these cell phones making these students any happier?

I see one of my students talk to Jamie in the main hallway of the school, “Dude, do you want to meet up tonight to hang out?” “I don’t know, text me tonight and ask me.” Jamie your friends are right in front of you, ask them in person for heavens sake!

This gadget, which supposedly has limitless entertainment opportunities, makes me fearful for the future of interpersonal relationships. Sending notifications and updates instead of playing outside with friends. Is that where this culture is heading? Yes, probably.

Even in silent mode, the cell phone is deadly to instruction. Cell phones never seem to die! If you are familiar with zombie theology, the double tap is necessary to make sure the zombie is really dead. Bam! Straight to the cell phone processor’s head. Pow! Pow!

Remember don’t tell students to silence their phone, tell them to put it on airplane mode or power off. Double tap!

Beyond killing the zombie cell phone virus with the double tap method, you need to quarantine the disease. If there is money left over in the school’s PTA budget a strict cardio after school program needs to be implemented in case the children rebel and the zombies take over. Please bring this line item up at the next parent teacher conference meeting with full sincerity.

Cell phone zombies, combined with my fear that my students might turn on me one day, (exacerbated by a late night watching of “Children of the Corn”) led me to realize: I need to confiscate these devices.

How can mere teachers contain this epidemic in our classrooms? I would begin by searching our educational systems secret weapon: Pinterest. I found a pin on Pinterest and go with the  suggestion to have a cell phone jail in my classroom. I purchased a large clear plastic box to be placed on my desk, so that every student could see their social life was not going to run away. Each child is required to place their cell phone in cell phone jail upon entering the classroom.

The first few weeks are met with the un-enthusiastic responses from the zombies, I mean students. The worst part is not the confiscation of the devices, but the vibrations. I have to keep reminding the children to double tap it! In a box of twenty cell phones, it is hard to distinguish who’s social life is jingling. Twenty eyes of longing status updates would stare intently into cell phone jail as the whole jar vibrates. Alas, your status update is #HendersonsHouseOfHorrors #IHopeICanRedGood #TheyFedMeDogFoodInHereOnce.

Three child are the worst cell phone villains, Rick, Jamie, and Claudia. They will hold up the line so they can send last minute selfies, or create a talk to text message that we can all hear.

“No, mom I like the ham and cheese hot pockets, gosh!” Jamie yelled, knowing that this last minute text stands between him and ham heaven.

These are my two favorite talk to text moments right before the cell phones entered cell phone jail.

The socially popular Claudia yells to her dad. “No, that’s not my hair in the refrigerator that’s the dogs.” With an obvious look to say that this has happened before. Followed by my second favorite. “Shut up, I don’t have a mangina!” By the pimply Rick.

As the week progresses, Rick, Jamie, and Claudia do not always surrender their cell phones willingly. Some students do not have cell phones, and we have not had any incidents to date. I began to believe I could trust my students and began to trust they would always surrender their cell phones in the morning.”

I was wrong. These three culprits would lie. Straight to my face. The worst part is that I know they do not regret it, but Mr. Henderson always comes up with a plan for sweet justice.

One by one, their glowing faces give away hidden cell phones tucked under their desks.

Week two of the school year, I have my first cell phone offender. Jamie, the proud owner of a processed cheese stained shirt, is the first to get caught.

I spotted a hunchbacked Jamie, bent over looking culpable at a cell phone. I have described this behavior as the lurk. Jamie lurked under his desk. Jamie’s head is still bigger than his body in these developmental years, so the light from the phone glowed brighter on his face. He does not often talk, but when he does the crackle in his voice gives Jamie away. I catch Jamie saying, “I sent you the picture, check it later.” I pick up on his Jamie’s voice, thanks puberty!

I marched over to Jamie’s desk.

“Jamie! How long have you had that cell phone?” I demanded in an authoritative tone.

“Uhhh, for awhile.” He shrugged.

“Does awhile mean before the start of the school year?” I ask with my hands crossed.

“Well it depends. I mean I got it this summer, It’s still summer until September 21st.” The excuses are often worse than the crimes.

This lame excuse made me recall a jingle for Jamie inspired from a hot pocket commercial, “What is Mr. Henderson gonna pick?……………de….ten…tion.”

“Jamie, you did not hand in your cell phone with everyone else. You will have after school detention this week.”

After this stunt, and Jamie’s subsequent time in detention, I think the texting is under control. I hope that parents will teach their kids that the unlimited data plan does not mean you have to text unlimitedly. Your wireless carrier does allow you to eat, sleep, and even communicate with other humans without a screen being glued to your face.

This day, I contemplated quitting teaching. To give you some context, I have been bitten by a student, spit on, and cursed out, but then Rick decided to pop a pimple right outside my class and take a selfie. I was so grossed out I turned my back on the cell phone jail as the pupils enter the classroom.

I hear one student say, “Awesome!” They say if you’re the smartest person in the room, leave the room. When zit selfies are considered awesome, leave that state. Rick decides to keep his cell phone since he saw me look away in disgust.

We start the morning message and a math lesson I wanted to review. Rick sat at his desk with his hands under the desk. Rick is a teaser, a jock, and a prankster. Naturally my eyes kept going back in his direction. Rick could not exhibit self control when someone dared him. I hear whispers for Rick and his classmate Jeff to be quiet.

I must warn you to never turn your back as a teacher. I only turned slightly to my right to pick up a marker and then I hear: Click.

“What was that?” I turned around and Rick’s hands are further buried under his desk. That was clearly a cell phone camera noise.

“Did you just take a photo of me? Let me see your hands.” I demanded.

I check the photo and it’s a close up of my butt.

I gripped the phone tightly and stare at the craters on his cheeks.

Rick’s face reddens, only intensifying the bright pimples around his face. I extended my hand to take the phone and my glare signals that he will be in detention with Jamie’s hot pockets. Rick, Jamie and their Proactive facial scrub would join his fellow cell phone junkies in detention.

After these two incidents, I assumed that these consequences have some sort of affect. Never underestimate a pre-teen. If they want to send a text, you will need to send in a SEAL team to stop them. Once such teen was a strong willed girl names Claudia.

Claudia had long black hair that hanged gracefully straight reaching the middle of her back. Her fingernails were either pink, black or purple on any given day. Claudia wore increasing shorter clothes to gain the attention from the boys newly encroaching hormones and of course for selfies.

“Claudia, Claudia put the cell phone in the bin.” Claudia rolled her eyes and turned her back on me blocking my view of the cell phone jail.

“I don’t think so. In the bin now!” I hear the pink cell phone case drop in with the other phones and she walked with her nose in the air towards her desk.

We begin practicing long division. The lesson is off to a great start, so I thought.

The class is in groups of four and I passed out the assignment for students to work on. I see hands together and a face glowing with a zombie stare. How could it be? Does Claudia have telekinetic powers? How has she pulled the phone from the bin?

I go to cell phone jail to check if Claudia’s phone is present. It’s in the bin, or at least it appears. She took off the pink case and took the cell phone to her desk. Sneaky little one. I proceeded cautiously across the room, to not give away my position and to scare the life out of her.

“Claudia! You took the cell phone out of the case and are defiantly texting in my classroom!”

Everyone stopped to look at the commotion and Claudia looked stoic. She stands up and sticks her nose in the air at me.

“This was a birthday present. You can’t take away a present. Just because I am texting does not mean I am not listening to you. This is not fair. I hate this school!” Oh God, then the tears start.

“Why can’t I have my phone? Why? Why? WHY?” The tears increased.

This is the apex of her miserable existence. Claudia is distraught, the shelter and three meals a day in an industrialized nation are taking their tole. The horror. Maybe I am being to hard, maybe it is as bad as it seems. Could it be that Claudia’s phone only has 3G?

“Claudia, stop crying. Claudia it’s only a phone. You will get it after school.” I declared.

I may as well have said that Claire’s social life was becoming extinct. Claudia hunched over and grabbed a textbook over her head indicating she will throw it at me if I proceed closer. This little girl has lost her mind. 

“Calm down Claudia, calm down” I try to ease the tension in the room, I think, if there were 100 books in my classroom and if there are twenty students, Claudia could throw five books at each of the students….. I could use this equation in my division lesson. Dan, Dan get back to your first world problems: a pre-adolescent girl is having a cell phone crisis. 

“Jamie, call down to the security officer and ask her to come up to our classroom.” I patiently said, as I pushed down my hands in the air to signal everything is calm.

The security guard came and uses the not so subtle yelling approach that most security guards use. It scared Claudia enough to drop the textbook in her hand and she is escorted to the principals office.

After the book throwing, detention, and the principals office, you might assume her attitude would change. Nope.

Mom took away her cell phone for a week and then Claudia got her cell phone back. The class files in one by one, dropping off their cell phones. Claudia stood their texting away, lurching, leaning onto the screen.

“Claudia, Claudia put the cell phone in the bin.” No response.

“Claudia, oh Claudia, class is starting.” She turned her back while rolling her eyes.

The class looked at me for leadership. I calmly get up and look her straight in the eye.

“It seems like you want to be on your phone all day talking to someone. Would you like for me to make that happen for you?” Claudia stared at me puzzled, but then followed me.

“Yes, come with me. You will be able to talk to someone on your phone all during class.” Like a french butler escorting a royal guest into a fabulous four star room, I walk briskly across the room with a big smile. Everyone wonders if Mr. Henderson had gone mental.

“Claudia, let me use your phone for just a minute.”

“Okay.” She says reluctantly, but figured, What can I lose?

I searched the contacts until I find the one number that will settle this little dispute. Mom. I call Mom.

“Hi Mom, it’s Mr. Henderson. I am calling you from Claudia’s phone. Listen, it seems that we might have had a cell phone incident again.”

Mom talked for awhile and I relay what has just happened. As mom started to get upset I say, “I know, I know.”

“Listen, since Claudia wants to be on her phone with someone why don’t we let her be on FaceTime with you. Yes, she can be on the phone all day with you watching to make sure she is working in our classroom.”

“Sounds like a great idea.” Mom says enthusiastically.

The other students start to giggle and Claudia looked like she is going to die. I put a desk in the corner with the cell phone pointed straight at her during the course of the whole lesson.

One student turned around and laughed at Claudia. I pick up a spare cell phone from my jail and ask to the whole class:

“Anyone else want me to FaceTime mom?”

If you enjoyed these teaching mishaps and want to read similar stories visit my blog at You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on