Cellphones and Beyond: Teachers’ Ideas on What’s Hindering Learning

By Tanyon A. Duprey — April 18, 2024 4 min read
Vector illustration group of students feeling bored at lecture, demotivated young people.
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Problems in the classroom can make up an ever-growing list. Since the pandemic, many teachers have reported a sharp uptick when it comes to student apathy toward learning.

In a new national survey by the Pew Research Center, teachers shared what they believed were “the major problems” in their classroom. In reaction to EdWeek’s story on the survey, many educators shared their own perspectives on Facebook, regarding what was causing their students to be apathetic toward learning.

These were the most popular themes from those responses.

Intellectual curiosity isn’t being nourished

“PreK and kindergarten are no longer play-based and developmentally appropriate, and there is an overemphasis on standardized testing once they get to primary school. They’ve never experienced the joy of learning. I’d be pretty apathetic too.”

Tessa H.

“’Graduate over educate’ as a philosophy at the district level has given zero reason for students to be engaged or make any effort to learn.”

Dutch R.

“I’ve been a teacher for 20 years. I have only taught at [Title I] schools which always have focused on state testing scores. Very little joy and exploration happens in these schools because the emphasis is on the state testing.”

Diana S.

“It’s not a lack of interest in learning so much as it is a lack of interest in learning things somebody else determines for them, that they don’t care about and won’t likely use beyond the test. I work specifically with teenagers who are disinterested in school, and I find that they have great interest in learning all sorts of things that just aren’t of high value in schools.”

Josh P.

Small screens are winning out

“Cellphones need to be banned from the classroom. Office needs to take them, call home, and let the parent come pick them up. This would only happen a few times.”

Walt M.

“... Cellphones are a big influence and way more entertaining. I definitely think the focus on testing and the old school factory style of learning [is] huge for disinterest. I’ve advocated for change in my own department, but [administrators] and parents are so hyper focused on test scores that they don’t care about innovation that would actually help our students be engaged and interested in learning.”

Jennifer D.

“Typically depression is one of the big causes of apathy. I suspect phones and social media are largely causing that.”

Brooke T.

“A teacher, even a good and energetic one, just cannot compete with smartphones and full-on procrastination if he wants to still teach the pupils something. Learning is just not as tempting as spending your whole day on a phone.”

Boleslav S.

“What cellphones have done, along with apps such as TikTok, is condition young people to very limited attention spans. The biggest issue I found is that far fewer children can now sustain concentration across even a short lesson.”

Darren L.

Big screens are a problem, too

“Chromebooks aren’t helpful...”

Mary D.

“Get rid of the laptop computers. Students can’t write, spell, do math, write essays, etc, etc. The computers do it for them. The computers are also a great way to be entertained.”

Pat C.

“Chromebooks... [Two to three students] caught every class period playing games while I’m teaching!!! Bring back books and pencils. All they do is [use] Google FOR EVERYTHING!”

J Hunter N.

“At which point do we admit school laptops are a much bigger problem than the phones? Most of the work they do is on their laptops. That makes it easy to cheat, cut, and paste to use Google and ChatGPT, plus the distractions of gaming apps...”

Emmanuelle W.

An increasingly outdated system begs a lot of questions

“One reason [students give for apathy], is that: “Why should we learn all this? We can just look it up if we need it.”

Lotta A.

“Maybe what we teach needs to change. Most parents and students in junior and senior high [school] know that they will never use the material they are being taught. So, no wonder engagement is low.”

Coreen H.

“Perhaps an antiquated public school system based on a 1950’s model for instruction is no longer effective.”

Rebecca V.

“...The old, “You might need this one day” doesn’t work anymore. If you can’t find ways for kids to apply learning to what they want with their lives both now and in the future, why should they want to pay attention? Show them (don’t just tell them) it’s not a waste of time.”


Changing one’s approach is helpful

“Cellphones are apathy’s crutch, but not its cause. Apathy will happen with or without cellphones. As someone who has been in the field of education, I’ve found that turning the use of electronics into a reward is helpful. In addition, iPads are often useful tools for students who may not know how to speak, and a lack of those iPads can and will also further apathy.”

Matt N.

“I teach theatre. We almost never use devices. I focus a lot on community building, active listening, using our bodies, and taking creative risks. Kids are able to engage and create, but it takes a lot of energy, focus, and creativity on my part to make it happen.”

Jen L.

“I had my 6th grade students use their phones to do vocabulary and geography skills in class... I had only one student out of 80 in 2 years that lost the privilege. Maybe we need to teach our students to use their [phones] as an educational tool.”

Norris B.

“I once worked at a school that took kids’ phones when they walked in for the day. Each phone was kept in a Manila envelope with the student’s name. At the end of the day, they got them back. It was rough at first (lots of pushback) but guess what happened? Less drama...”

Nicole W.


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