Cell Phones: The #1 Battle You’ll Never Win

When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, some refused to embrace his life-altering invention and continued to light their rooms with candlelight. How well-equipped would we be today if our teachers were so anti-technology that they refused to teach us how to type on a typewriter or computer? If you’re not integrating cell phones in the classroom you are crippling your students.

Cell phones are how we communicate with the world today. When you ask a student to lock up their phone, you’re telling them that their sick daughter at home isn’t important, or that their dad’s surgery outcome doesn’t matter, or that you really don’t care about anything in their life outside of your classroom.

How do we know our students are using their phones? Their heads are down, their hands are under the table and they all touch their pockets at the sound of a vibration. If you require cell phones to be locked up, you’re giving your students so much anxiety that they simply won’t be able to concentrate. This is a battle you aren’t going to win, so quit fighting it!

Here are my rules for cell phones in the classroom

■   Cell phones must be on silent, not vibrate. We all know our ringtones. If you hear a phone ring and it’s not your ringtone, you simply don’t care and ignore it. If a phone vibrates, everyone looks for their phone, thinking it could be theirs. My rule is to turn the phone to silent.

■   Put them on the desk upside down. Students feel at ease just simply having their phone in sight. They can see it and they can feel it—but the screen must be facing down on the desk.

■   Integrate them into your class. Below I’ll share some tips for using them in your class, but make sure your students know that they will get to use them at times. They’ll look forward to this.

■   Have them agree to your terms. My students know these rules. They also know if they break them, they’ll forfeit the privilege of using them in the class for that day. I make every student raise their hand to agree to my terms. Trust me, if the alternative is to lock them up, they’ll agree.

■   Never take away a phone. This is their personal property. A good teacher can be in control of the class without such harsh punishment. A student would rather you take the keys to their car than to take away their phone. Don’t lose their respect by doing this.

Ways to integrate cells phones in the classroom

■   Instagram. Have them snap a picture of something they’re working on and Instagram the picture using a specific hashtag.

■   Surveys. Use an online system (like Survey Monkey) to create a survey and share the link with your students to take the survey. This is a great way to get immediate feedback or a way to get statistics to share in a lesson.

■   Facebook. Find some educational fan pages that are relevant to their learning and have them “like” those pages. You can even discuss some of the content on those pages. You can also set up a Private Facebook group for them to join, where students can converse with each other and where you can share homework assignments, etc.

■   Search engines. This is always a great game for students. Ask questions and have them search for the answers online.

When you do these activities, will they quickly view their text messages, check their email and social media notifications? Of course—but who cares? They’ll do it so quickly that it usually isn’t even a distraction. If they’re still participating and following your rules, let it go. This is a battle I simply wouldn’t choose. Be sure you stay within these parameters and hold your students accountable. Our world today is driven by the use of technology. Integrating social media will only help them in the long run. Never underestimate the power of an educator!


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Teaching the Auditory Learner

Auditory learners can be a challenge for several educators. However, the problem isn’t with those types of students—it’s with the teacher. It’s up to us to adapt our lesson plans for all types of learners and look at it from their perspective.

What is an auditory learner?

■   An auditory learner is one who learns through listening. They process through their ears. In order for them to understand information, they have to physically hear what is being said, otherwise they won’t grasp it. (As opposed to visual learners who can see an example of something and learn it that way.)

Indicators you have an auditory learner in your class

■   You think a student isn’t paying attention, yet they always know the answer when you call on them.

■   Their head may down or they may be doodling.

■   They test well (good at oral exams or written responses).

■   They problem-solve by talking it through.

■   They move their lips or talk to themselves as they’re doing something.

■   Their words indicate listening over watching. They use phrases like, “I hear you,” or “I’m can’t wait to hear what you’ll be speaking about.”

■   They can listen to music and still focus.

The worst things you can do

■   Your words. Don’t say “Look at me,” or suggest everyone put their pens down and focus on you while you’re speaking. It takes auditory learners extra time to focus on you, when in reality, they can hear you just fine without looking.

■   Your presentation-style. Don’t have visually-centered classes all the time. Although some require demonstrations or a Power Point, be sure you’re still using words to talk through your demos or Power Point presentations.

■   Assumptions. Don’t assume you’re being ignored or that your students are being disrespectful by making little to no eye contact.


What to do

■   Use tone and pitch. Auditory learners respond to changes in tone and they find meaning of words by picking up on these signals. Be sure your tone and pitch reflect what you’re trying to say.

■   Get them to actively participate. In they want to remember an address, they can’t just look at it on Google maps. They have to say the address out loud. Get them to answer orally in a class setting to ensure they understood your message.

■   Put on some music. Although this can be distracting for other students, find times to introduce background noise for auditory learners. Let them thrive in your classroom.

■   Test them and find out. Unsure what learning styles you have in your classroom? Have your students take this free quiz and report their results to you!


Remember, how you learn is how you study. Don’t teach to your learning style—adapt to your students. Don’t ever underestimate the power of an educator!


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The Importance of Thank You

What do you do when a quiet student with low self-confidence finally raises their hand and answers a question you’ve asked the class … and they’re wrong? I answer them the exact way I do when a student becomes extremely angry and starts voicing their frustrations. I use two small words that make a big impact—thank you.

“Thank you” is my best fire extinguisher in the classroom. It’s the one phrase that can calm someone down, build someone back up and make them feel important. The importance of thank you is something that separates good teachers from great. Good teachers say thank you when they are validated—great teachers understand the importance of using it to validate someone else. It’s a minimal gesture that makes a huge difference.

When you say thank you, you are saying:

■   I heard you

■   I appreciate you

■   You are important enough for me to listen to you

When emotions run high, intelligence is low. When someone reacts with high emotion (like in a rage), saying thank you knocks them right off their game and causes them to not know how to respond. That’s why when I have a student who wants to tell me how the universe hates them, I respond, “Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me how you feel.” It immediately brings their emotional rage down a level. You can either play into it or say thank you.

When a student, any student really (not just the type in the example above) answers a question wrong, I say, “Thank you! You’re not quite there; does anyone else want to add to that?” Now instead of them feeling bad about their wrong answer, you’ve just validated them to make them feel appreciated for even trying.

Saying thank you creates a safe environment, it shows your students that you respect them and it adds to the value of your classroom culture. Do you have a fire you’re battling in class? Say thank you and watch it burn out. Don’t ever underestimate the power of an educator!


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Are You the Reason Your Students are Late?

If you had a job interview, would you be late? If you had an important doctor’s appointment, would you leave early to make sure you’re on time? Over and over again I hear teachers unite over one universal complaint: students show up late!

Whether it’s traffic or a family problem, we all hear the same excuses year after year. Yes, some of them are legitimate, but for the most part, it’s the same students who continually disrespect the importance of punctuality.  

In my years of teaching I’ve learned one major thing in regards to students showing up late for class, and it’s not easy to hear. It’s not the student’s fault. It’s the teacher’s.


Ask yourself these questions:

■  Are you starting class on time? If you’re not showing time is important to you, then it won’t be to your students. If class starts at 8 a.m., be sure you’re there on time and starting the class at 8 a.m. sharp.

■  What do you cover in the first 5 – 10 minutes? If you’re doing nothing but roll call and waiting for late ones to arrive—you’re not giving your students a reason to be on time. Try giving  substance right off the bat. Maybe give hints for an upcoming test, ways they can get extra credit, or details about an upcoming project. Or, if you’re doing group work that day, put them into groups as soon as class starts. Once your students catch on, they’ll make it a point to be there.

■  Are you praising the good or are you harping the bad? Instead of showing how annoyed you are when someone walks in late, show public appreciation for the ones who are there on time. The best way to get consistently good behavior is to reward those who meet your expectations—not punish the ones who don’t.

■  Are you closing with a teaser? Your students may not all be there at the beginning of class, but they are at the end. Be sure to tease tomorrow’s “opener” to give your students another reason to not hit that snooze button the next morning.


The next time you find yourself frustrated with students who can’t tell time as well as you can, be sure to analyze yourself to ensure that you aren’t the problem. We aren’t perfect and if there are ways we can help our students succeed (or even be on time), we should be taking those opportunities.  Don’t ever underestimate the power of an educator!

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What if Your Student is Older Than You?

I can still remember Janet’s first day. She simply didn’t fit in. She was a recently retired, well-educated woman who decided at the age of 63 to enroll in cosmetology school. The other students around her automatically seized her up as a “cranky old lady.”

What do you when your student is older than you? For an educator, this is an increasing trend that you’ll have to face year after year. Enrollment of students 25 years or older increased 42 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Educators get scared when they walk in the door and see a new student who is older than their own mother or father.


Here are some things you have to remember:

■  They know they’re older. They knew it before they enrolled; they knew it before they drove to school; they knew it before you walked in the door.
■  Don’t assume they’re a know-it-all. They’re sitting in your classroom because they have already come to grips with the fact that they need to learn something.
■  They’re scared. They haven’t been in school in a while, so they’re already terrified you’re going to bring out something new and techno savvy that they can’t keep up with.
■  Age has nothing to do with the ability to learn. No matter how old someone is—you can teach them something!
■  They’re more “ready” than the majority of your other students. You don’t get up and decide at 50+ you want to give college a try. You do that at 18. Older students have prepared themselves, have clear, defined goals and are ready to jump in and be successful.


What you can do:

■  Learn their story. Many of Janet’s friends and family were in a nursing home and all she wanted to do was get licensed so she could pamper the residents. Once you know their reason for being there, you can constantly use this goal to help motivate and encourage them.
■  Make them feel comfortable. Avoid offensive terms like “seasoned” or “older” when referring to them in your classroom. Whatever you do, put yourself in their shoes and don’t ever let them feel like they don’t belong.
■   Make them your helper. Older students are caregivers by nature. From making copies to putting notes on the board, find little ways to involve them in your class where they feel important and like they have purpose.
■  Earn their respect. Be as subtle as possible. When you’re trying to involve them, don’t say, “Would you like to be my helper today?” Try, “If you have a minute can you help me?” This, in time, will help you earn their respect.


When Janet graduated, she hadn’t just changed my perception of older students—she changed everyone’s. She received a standing ovation on graduation day from her fellow classmates. Having a student who is older than you can be quite intimidating, but remember your main purpose—to prepare each student for their future. Age really is just a number. Don’t ever underestimate the power of an educator!


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