In the third year of full in person learning, Berkeley High School teachers have continued to adjust and adapt their classroom practices. Walking into class on Wednesday, a larger proportion of the student body saw the classroom phenomenon phone holders. These amenities are used to separate students from their smartphones, a practice BHS teachers began to adopt on a larger scale this year.
Last spring, according to Karl Kaku, a Berkeley International High school (BIHS) English teacher, BIHS teachers came together to discuss classroom phone policies. The teachers decided to collectively incentivize students to not just put their phones in their bag, but rather remove it from their person altogether. While this was not a school wide conversation, different groups of teachers reached a similar consensus, according to Yoshi Salaverry-Takei, an English and AP language teacher in Academic Choice (AC).
“We were having conversations about what we should do within AC last year, and we all pretty much agreed that the best thing moving forward would be for students to just get rid of (phones) until the end of class,” Salaverry- Takei said. “A cell phone is a combination of a phone, a Gameboy, and a camera and all these other things smushed into one device. So it’s only natural that they’re extremely distracting.”
In previous years, phones and their distracted users wore down on Salaverry-Takei’s ability to teach, and created an unwelcome addition to his job.
“I mean, dealing with kids’ cell phones was getting to be, by far, the most annoying part of my job,” Salaverry-Takei said. “The most annoying, least rewarding aspect of my job.”
A decrease in student stamina or their ability to focus for extended periods in the presence of a phone was similarly pointed out by Kaku.
“I’ve witnessed students that work three to four minutes on a paper and then stop and be on their phone,” Kaku said. “All that stuff also leads to students turning work in late and missing deadlines … and the quality of the work is less. It’s gone down because students aren’t able to really sit down and focus and look deeply at something. They’re distracted by their phone.”
After implementing phone holders, Kaku described a classroom environment containing less distracted students and student-teacher conflicts that previously arose as a result of smartphone usage.
“Students are more present,” Kaku said. “They don’t seem as distracted and the conflict between the teacher and the student has decreased tremendously. I honestly think that impacts our learning environment. In the past, I’d have to constantly police them. Can you put that away? Can you be with us? Can you take your headphones off? And now I don’t, it seems like everybody’s present.”
While these stricter phone policies may have clear benefits to teachers, Olaf Dietz, a senior in BIHS, explained the disadvantages for students.
“I think a lot of (students) are not really happy with it,” Dietz said. “I was never someone who would really watch TikTok and be on Instagram during class, but I know it’s a habit for a lot of people. People have also expressed concerns about fire alarms, and just the way the world is, we’re always supposed to be able to be reachable by parents in case of an emergency.”
June Griffith, a freshman in the Universal Ninth Grade, agrees partially with the widespread use of the phone holders because, “It’s good not to have your phone when you’re trying to work, but also sometimes it relaxes me, like if I’m trying to listen to music or if I need to write down notes on my phone.”
Dietz continued by emphasizing how phones have also impacted his process of learning. The easy access to “breaks” challenged his ability to maintain focus.
“During lockdown If I was struggling with something, it’s easier to just take a break instead of pushing through a problem,” Dietz said. “Also the accessibility of just being able to Google something to figure it out, I think, sometimes can be a little bit too accessible.”
Phones can be utilized to fill unengaging or even awkward moments according to Cleo Saxe, a junior in BIHS. As comforting as these easy distractions may be, Saxe mentioned how phone holders started to positively impact her social interactions within class.
“I think it’s allowed me to be more social with my classmates because I’m not filling awkward silences by looking at my phone,” Saxe said. “I’m actually talking to them.”
“I should have been using this cell phone pouch thing way earlier,” Salaverry-Takei said. “Because now there’s still kids who are distracted and distracting themselves, but they’re doing it the way kids have done it for centuries, which is just having a conversation with the person next to them … Students can sometimes forget that part of being in high school is growing socially and emotionally, not just growing intellectually.”