Help! My School Has the Same Extreme Cell Phone Policy for Children AND Teachers

Sometimes I wonder if schools think through the litigation possibilities when they’re developing new policies.

Illustration of principal implementing unfair cell phone policy

Dear WeAreTeachers:
We learned this week at in-service, as we do every year, about new district policies. This year’s slide featured an initiative by the district to limit cell phone use in the classroom. Each secondary classroom will have an over-the-door shoe holder to house students’ phones during class, and at the end of class students can pick up their phones on the way out. Fire hazard? Probably. But if it helps with the cell phone issues, I’m on board. Then, they showed the next slide. Teachers will need to put their phones in the shoe compartment too. Predictably (and justifiably), the teachers in the room got very heated. Someone asked if we could have our phone in our desk or pocket, and they said no. “No exceptions.” This is beyond insulting. I can’t believe my school is banning phones for teachers. What would you do in this situation? —I Feel Twelve

Dear I.F.T.,

Oh, boy.

I’ll start by saying that I don’t think the teacher end of this policy will last for very long. Not allowing teachers access to their phones during most of the school day means that far more communication will have to come through the front office and interrupt the classroom. Daycares and schools often need immediate communication with parents who teach. Teachers are emergency contacts for spouses, relatives, and/or friends.

Can you imagine if you couldn’t make a medical decision for someone in your life for 90 minutes because you’d been asked to keep your phone in a shoe holder? Can you imagine if your school was in lockdown and you couldn’t text a status check of your room or contact your loved ones because you weren’t allowed to have your phone on you? Sometimes I wonder if schools actually think through the litigation possibilities when they’re in the brainstorming stages for new policies.


I can think of several education-thought leaders (ones who have been out of the classroom for decades) who would probably encourage you to talk to your administration about your concerns with this policy. And while that is a great approach if you have a reasonable, trustworthy, skilled supervisor, something tells me that an administration team who made this policy doesn’t think very highly of its teachers or their feedback.

I’ll tell you exactly what I’d do in your situation: I’d keep my phone on silent in my desk. I’d put it on the settings where if the same number calls back twice, it rings. The chances that an administrator sees the phone in your desk are very low. If they do see it in my desk, I’d just say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I thought I put it back in the shoe holder! I’ll do that right now.” If you don’t feel comfortable taking that risk, wait it out. I give it six weeks for this policy to fizzle and die.

Save your energy and your battles for the things that really matter.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I absolutely adore my first grade students, my niece (I love being the “Fun Aunt”), and children in general. However, my husband and I are child-free by choice. Over the past few years, I hear more and more from other teachers and parents how “Oh, you’ll change your mind one day!” or “Being a mom made me a better teacher,” or other comments suggesting that if I’m a teacher, I should obviously want kids of my own. I used to just smile and laugh it off, but I’ve found that these comments are getting to me. How should I respond? —Sad (But Not Because I Don’t Have Kids!)

Dear S.B.N.B.I.D.H.K.,

Ugh. I’m always confounded by people assuming their way of life ought to be everyone’s way of life.

As much as my contrarian energy would delight in you responding with something snarky (“That’s great advice! I heard kids cost on average a quarter of a million dollars in 2015 … I wonder what that is with today’s inflation?” or “I love that idea! I’ll discuss it with my husband right after we sleep in and get brunch both days this weekend!”). I think those might only reinforce the negative stereotypes people have about people who have chosen to not have children.

Teachers are skilled prevaricators when it comes to touchy subjects, but sometimes the best way to respond is to be direct and firm. “We love this decision and have no intention of changing it.” Writer and documentarian Chanel Dubofsky put it this way in her essay: “I don’t feel like something is missing from my life because I don’t have children. I don’t want to have kids. There is no yet.”

If they continue with these comments even after you clarify, it’s time to have the conversation. Their responses don’t make you want to have children; they only make you feel inferior.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I had my first baby in April and took the rest of the year off for maternity leave. I’m emotionally ready and I think I’ve got our daycare routine down, but what’s still puzzling me is how on earth I’m going to pump when back at school. It takes me 20 minutes to pump in the comfort of my own home—that’s without factoring in going to a different space in a school building, washing/sanitizing pump parts, putting milk away in a fridge, etc. With a teacher/sub shortage at my school, how am I possibly going to get enough time to do this every day? Do I make sub plans every day for half an hour while I go pump? I’m already feeling discouraged. —Engorged and Edgy

Dear E.A.E.,

As someone who was in this position last October, let me first express my solidarity and compassion. Returning from maternity leave is hard for any working mother. But we have the added confusion of not being able to leave children unattended, having different schedules, a shortage of people who can cover for you, a pumping location on the other side of the school … the list goes on.

My best advice would be what I wish I’d done: Hire a lactation consultant as soon as you can. They can help train you on how to use your pump (if you haven’t yet) and develop a pumping schedule for school. Consultants will know the pumping laws specific to your state and can help you navigate many of the questions and put away a lot of the anxiety related to pumping. They’ve done this for many, many teachers and know how to protect your rights. You will also now have a contact ready in case you discover things aren’t working for some reason.

Whatever you do, put the breastfeeding goals you have for you and your child above anything happening at school. You can adjust these goals, of course, but don’t do it because you feel guilty that your students are missing out or that you’re burdening the person or people who cover for you. It’s on your school to provide that time, not you.

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Dear WeAreTeachers:
After relocating for my wife’s job over the summer, I’ll be teaching in a new district. I’m worried about coming out at my new school—especially with recent fearmongering about teachers’ agendas—to students or coworkers. It’s not as if I’m planning on announcing that to my students (in the same way a straight teacher wouldn’t announce it to their students), but I can think of plenty of times I spoke about my wife at my last school without issue. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t even tell coworkers I’m gay. Should I just plan to keep that part of my identity a secret?

Help! My School Has the Same Extreme Cell Phone Policy for Children AND Teachers