The sound came from the midst of my students as I was in the middle of a discussion/lecture about abortion. I was already giving far too little time to such an important topic, but I had miscalculated with the semester. As I heard the sound I briefly thought of my nephew and how I had heard that sound come from his phone many times while he was at our house. Now, though, it was in the middle of my class and school policy was that the phone was now confiscated for a week. The first time this had happened in my class was on day two of teaching. My students were looking at me and while part of me questioned if I had heard correctly, the looks on their faces reconfirmed my hearing.
“Alright. Give me the phone.”
Then it happened. I watched the students, one in particular, lean back in their seats, cross their arms, and give me that smile that aroused every stubborn fiber in my body. Suddenly it was them against me. They were unwilling to give up the phone and they wondered how I would get it from them. It was an implicit challenge. I’m not entirely certain what their perception of me is, but they didn’t think that I was as stubborn as I turned out to be.
“Come on. Just give me the phone.” I waited, letting the silence extend, showing them that I wasn’t just going to brush off this incident. The students began to look at each other.
“OK. If you don’t give me the phone, I’m just going to have to check your bags to see who else has their phones.” They didn’t look very perturbed, but after a while longer they began to tell me that it wasn’t their phone, that they didn’t have a Droid, that their phone was off/in their locker. As time continued, though, the individual with the offensive phone didn’t come forward. I was remembering what I had overheard other students say about phones going off in other classes and how when they simply sat there and didn’t give it up, they left the classroom at the end of the period with the teacher simply saying that what they did was very rude. Rude, perhaps, but that didn’t bother them too much when they all still had their phones at the end of the class. I decided that I wouldn’t be one of them.
“You’re right–I’m not going to check your bags. But if I don’t get the phone that went off, then you all have detentions.” Their faces changed a little bit with that. It wasn’t that I wanted to give them all detentions (they would be my first of my career) but I figured that would be enough of an incentive for the person to come forward. Who would be willing to give the entire class a detention simply so they could keep their phone? In my mind, it would be a few moments before I would have the phone in my hand and class could carry on as it should. A couple of the girls were uncomfortable with the situation, as displayed by their red faces. When a couple of the boys found out that these girls had never had detentions, they riled the class to take the detention.
“Guys, let’s take it!” “Yeah, its just a study hall in the morning!” “We can talk with Mr.— about bringing donuts tomorrow!” Their excitement wasn’t what I expected or wanted. I didn’t desire them to be miserable, but I was hoping the peer pressure would make the person step forward and surrender the phone.
That didn’t happen. Instead, I waited for them to give me the phone. When I pressed them more for the phone, one student got up and handed me his phone, telling me to just take it. I knew it wasn’t his and although it was an act of valor, I was unwilling to allow that one person to avoid punishment simply because a classmate of his was sacrificial. With the one phone stowed in my podium, I told them that I wasn’t going to waste any more class time over this but that if I didn’t have the phone by the end of class then they would all have detentions. And then I continued with class. I ended five minutes early, on accident, but I thought it would be a good time for them to think about it and then give me the phone. Perhaps they thought I had issued a simple harmless threat, but I fully intended to give them what I said I would. No, I didn’t want to give them a detention, but I wanted to be true to my word and I wanted them to know that I meant what I said and should be taken seriously. When the bell rang, they all walked out and I never got the phone. I was amazed that the person never came forward and that the class didn’t pressure them to do so. While I didn’t want them to rat the person out, I was hoping that the disgruntled class would impel the person to honesty.
I didn’t think I was over-reacting. After e-mailing the principal the list of people in the class, I waited for him to come and talk to me. Somehow, I knew he wouldn’t like that I had given all twenty-four people a detention, but I thought I had sufficient reasons. He came just before my third period class and asked if I could locate the area of the room the sound came from. Over the next couple periods he called discreetly into his office a couple trustworthy people in the class to ascertain who let their phone go off. By fifth period he came and told me who it was and their punishment. What I didn’t altogether expect was that the rest of the class would no longer have detentions. A student came and asked me at the end of the day if the detentions still stood and I told him that as far as I was concerned, they did. I had said I needed the phone by the end of the class and since that hadn’t happened, I intended for the consequences to stand. The next morning a had a couple visits from the administration explaining to me why they did what they did and how to handle a situation like this in the future. I understood where they were coming from, but I still think my method was better. I heard from several people that my students were complaining about the detention for the rest of the day. By the time 8th period walked in on that same day, they were smirking and saying, “Droid” and laughing about the incident. I wasn’t offended. Now they knew I was serious and that I meant what I said. Too many high school teachers of mine made empty threats that nobody listened to because they knew they would never follow through. I was determined to not be one of them.
In an e-mail to a parent, I told them that one thing I desired the students to learn from this was that they are an individual belonging to a community and what they do as individuals does affect the rest of the community. So perhaps it was one person’s phone that went off. The rest of them were complicit in the act by not speaking up or encouraging the person to be honest. Whether or not that explanation was sufficient, I don’t know. But it makes sense to me.
And that, dear readers, is the story of how this young teacher gave twenty-four detentions in one class period and had them all overturned within twenty-four hours.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord!