Keeping It Mobile – Tom Starkey

Category: Uncategorized

Published: May 26, 2016

Kids on the phone wind me up no end. Telling kids to get off their phones when they’re not supposed to be on them winds me up even more. Kids ignoring me after I tell them to get off their phones when they’re not supposed to be on them is liable to send me into apoplexy whilst carpet bombing detentions in the general area of said kid as they continue to remain blissfully unaware and firmly ensconced in the world of Snapchat, YouTube, WhatsApp and every distraction the digital world has to offer.
So annoying. But then I’m one to talk.

When it comes to being on the phone, there are times that I’m worse than the kids. To the detriment of such minor annoyances as social interaction, the all-out horror of ‘family time’, or meals where some of the food actually goes into my mouth rather than down my shirt as I gaze lovingly at my tiny little screen to the world, I’m pretty much surgically attached. ‘Glued to the screen’ doesn’t quite cut it – I’m more cemented. I’m nothing if not massively hypocritical when it comes to the kids.
So phones, yep – a lot of the time they are tiny little distraction machines that eat focus for lunch and have productivity for pudding.
Technology isn’t usage and usage isn’t technology. It’s true that in many cases, a mobile in your hand means nothing else gets done and it does take a modicum of self control not to get lost in the world behind the screen. But having said that, a phone can also be a fantastic tool for a busy and almost pathologically disorganised teacher like me. With the right apps, it can become a great way to save time, cut down on workload, and organise your day in such a way that it may give you a few extra minutes (which could, ironically, be spent telling more kids to get off their phones). It’s true, there is a world of distraction out there, but then again, there is also a world of help as well.
For me, my phone is a toolbox – it contains a whole bunch of things that I can use to get my job done. A bunch of equipment that formerly would have filled a decent sized bag – cameras, sound recorders, endless reams of paper, art supplies, games, whiteboards, notice boards, to do lists, maps, projectors; all these things can be squeezed into a little black rectangle, whacked into your pocket and taken with you, everywhere you go. That’s a lot less lugging and for me, less lugging is what it’s all about. Efficient, easy, portable – the abundance of mobile apps means that there’s often something available that can really help. Sometimes it’s even free. Free stuff rules.
The perception of the mobile phone as a hurdle to productivity isn’t necessarily a false one but when it comes right down to it, the phone itself is pretty much blameless. It’s what the user does with it that turns it into a help or a hindrance. In my own situation, it can often be a bit of both but ultimately that’s down to the type of person I am rather than the phone itself. And even at my most slack-jawed and unresponsive, the benefits that it represents far outweigh the annoyances.
In a case of ‘physician, heal thyself’, I try to model the use of mobile tech for learning with the kids, show them some of things that I’ve discovered that I think might help them in their own studies, maybe prize their faces away from the gossip, self-affirmation and the more addictive elements turning them towards things that’ll help with productivity, understanding and streamlining cumbersome processes (because there’s plenty out there). In doing so, I try to remind myself that there is a world away from social media, lolz and likes – a world where instead of a barrier, mobiles and the apps they contain can make the difficult job of teaching ever so slightly easier and that the screen can act as window to a different way of working rather than a mirror of some of our less wholesome traits.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop telling them to put their phone away, mind.
In the next post, I look at how effective use of mobile apps can improve your workflow.
Tom Starkey is an educator based in Leeds. He’s written for the Times Educational Supplement and Teach Secondary magazine. tweeting at @tstarkey1212 and writes at