Infrastructure

Ringing Endorsement

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 04, 2020 3 min read

It’s hard to forget the panicky voices of the students and teachers trapped inside Columbine High School. Barricaded in classrooms and closets, they used cell phones and classroom telephones to call police and even Denver-area radio stations, pleading for help.

School staff elsewhere in the country certainly haven’t forgotten. Classroom phones have been a hot topic for teachers and administrators in recent years, and the horror of the Columbine killings last spring has given these discussions new urgency. “We don’t even have an intercom system,” says Deryl Nissen, principal of the 150-student Jeffrey Elementary School in Osceola, Nebraska. “The only way I can communicate now is running up and down the hallway.”

Jerry Smith, Spring Corp.'s senior market manager for education markets, says teachers and administrators once believed that phones in class would be a nuisance. “Five years ago, when I would talk with a superintendent, he would say, ‘Why do you need to have a telephone in the classroom? It rings in the middle of class. It’s a distraction.’”

Now, says Smith, some educators have changed their tune. In a direct response to the Columbine tragedy, California high schools in AirTouch Cellular’s service area accepted 10,000 cellular phones donated by the company this summer. The phones reach emergency phone numbers only. California Governor Gray Davis asked other cellular-phone companies to match the gift and equip all the state’s high schools with classroom phones.

For some teachers, phones are a convenience as well as a safety measure. Donna DeKraai, a 3rd grade teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School in Brookings, South Dakota, uses her phone to alert main-office staffers that she’s sending them a sick child. And if one of her students doesn’t show up at school for a few days, she calls their parents to find out why. She also coordinates class presentations by outside speakers via the phone--a strategy that works a lot better than sending notes “flying back and forth,” she says.

Classroom phones, DeKraai continues, are less disruptive than an announcement blasted over the intercom. And, she says, there’s always voice mail. “We don’t have to answer the phone.”

Other teachers say classroom phones are handy instructional aides. David Schoales, formerly a history teacher at Peoples Academy in Morrisville, Vermont, says that when his students studied the stock market, they conducted phone interviews of local brokers and business executives during class time.

The Edison Project, a for-profit company that manages 51 public schools, sees phones as important teacher tools. The New York City-based company has outfitted all its classrooms with phones, according to Gaynor McCown, Edison’s vice president for corporate strategy. One popular use: a homework “hotline” for parents to listen to a recorded message from teachers discussing daily student assignments.

There are no statistics on the number of classrooms with phones. But officials in the country’s three largest school systems-New York City, Los Angeles,v and Chicago--say they are rare.

That could change with the growing popularity of the Internet, which has won over some skeptics who doubted the benefits of technology in the classroom. “It’s opened people’s eyes,” says Carol Utay, technology coordinator for the 7,300- student Jessamine County district in Kentucky. “Think of how many people a few years ago said, ‘What would you use the Internet or e-mail for?’''

New federal discounts for telephone cabling and service in schools also appear to be fueling interest. In Kentucky, every district’s technology plan since 1992 has called for a telephone handset in teachers’ rooms. But according to state officials, few schools installed phones until the government discounts became available last year as part of the so-called “E-rate” program, which is best known for providing “education-rate” savings for Internet access.

For some, the scarcity of classroom phones proves that teachers aren’t treated like professionals. “There are many schools where the professional work life of teachers is not where it ought to be,” says Joyce Epstein, director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “With the year 2000 coming up, the telephone problem should have been solved by now. We shouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1999 edition of Teacher

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Infrastructure Whitepaper
2021 Best Practices Guide: Education Broadband
In this guide, we provide actionable steps, timelines, and tips to help you launch and sustain a successful student WiFi program.
Content provided by Kajeet
Infrastructure 'Big Burden' for Schools Trying to Give Kids Internet Access
A year into the pandemic, millions of students remain without internet because of financial hurdles and logistical difficulties.
5 min read
Veronica Esquivel, 10, finishes her homework after her virtual school hours while her brother Isias Esquivel sits in front of the computer, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at their residence in Chicago's predominantly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood.
Veronica Esquivel, 10, finishes her homework after her virtual school hours while her brother Isias Esquivel sits in front of the computer, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at their residence in Chicago's predominantly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood.
Shafkat Anowar/AP
Infrastructure Q&A How to Expand Home Internet Connectivity for K-12 Students Over the Long Haul
One Florida district is mapping its region and prioritizing communities with the greatest economic needs for home internet access.
6 min read
This "heat map" generated by GIS technology uses progressively darker colors to illustrate the areas of Palm Beach County with the highest concentrations of families who lack home internet access.
This "heat map" generated by GIS technology uses progressively darker colors to illustrate the areas of Palm Beach County with the highest concentrations of families who lack home internet access.
Courtesy of Donna Goldstein
Infrastructure The Big Pandemic Tech Challenge: Reliable, High-Quality Internet Experiences for All
Simply providing a student with a device and internet connection at home isn’t enough to ensure high-quality online learning.
12 min read
A team of people build a path across the digital divide.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty