02 December 2010


I am encountering some digital problems these days in my junior Macbeth classes. The standards of courteous behavior are changing so quickly in all aspects of our culture that my head is spinning. It is no longer impolite to check your phone while conversing in person, or let the door slam in the face of the person behind you. And my students do not seem to know how to enter and exit elevators without creating a tangle of backpacks and arms and legs that slows everyone down.  I also cannot expect that they understand the convenience of one person speaking at a time; this simple lesson has become a week one routine for me over the past 5 years. But the change that has become most confusing, exhilarating and irritating all at the same time is texting.
Three years ago, there was never any reason to accept texting as polite behavior in the company of others. But in those three years, texting has exploded across all strata of our culture. I see people fingering their phones as they walk down city streets, drive their cars, converse with others, worship in church, read to their children, sleep, and eat. My own children felt that it was always rude not to return a text immediately, even as I demanded that phones be left behind as we ate dinner or they went upstairs to sleep. And that is what makes the nonstop communication by SMS so difficult to manage in a classroom: not only do my students feel it is rude not to return a text, but there are often real social consequences for them if they do not maintain a constant stream of conversation with their friends all day long.  And I have caught more than one student answering a text from a parent, who must also know that their child is sitting in a classroom?????? Whose interest does that parent have in mind?
It also creates an adversarial relationship with me, their teacher. I want to use their devices in class, and hopefully that will become possible at my school someday soon. But now I am supposed to be on the lookout for texting, and then confiscate the offender's phone and write a demerit, all while I am teaching, or facilitating group work, or listening to their poems aloud.  I cannot do all this efficiently. And even some students admit that when they are engaged in texting, they have no idea what is going on in class--though there are those that can do it. (I know, I did it as a kid. I read a book on my lap, while listening to what was going on with one ear. ) So what do I do?
Shakespeare is hard--at least at first. You have to concentrate to begin to enjoy it. He is NOT boring. I am NOT boring. It is NOT irrelevant. Attention must be paid. Critical thinking skills cannot be developed in a social context 100% of the time. Close reading of literature requires a single mindedness that becomes easier and enjoyable with time, but it must be practiced. But what are we to do when they risk social suicide by engaging in class instead of texting their anxiety away?


Healigan said...


Vanilla Chunk said...

Totally agree: I cannot teach when kids are texting or waiting for a text; it's like sexual tension right there in their pocket. Three years ago, the computer teacher went around with a flyer for cell-jammers. I bought one and oh, God, it was great. Kids would sit down the first day, look down all cocky -'this asshat can't bother me- HEY! WHY DON'T I HAVE ANY BARS?!?!'

Aw, it was to laugh.
Then some jerk called someone and the FCC (!) came up and down the halls with freaking sensors and we were told to put them away.
Now I have to see it or hear it ring or hit the floor before I confiscate it. However, when I do that, the parent has to come down and get it himself/herself; after a few of those, can't be fun discussing the bill.

Shakespeare...I tell them that it's hard. That's it's beauty they can afford. That I will give them the keys to the kingdom; I will explain why he's so funny/dirty and so, so good; they will never have to look dumb again.
they can choose to fight me and stop the class.
At this point, I grin.
I'll write down everything you say and do, I tell them, and I never lie. If you get in the way of Shakespeare, Hell won't hold your problems.
And then I win. I always win.