tweet tweet. tweedle-lee-dee.

oh, the tragedy.

I sit at the front of the classroom, introducing The Tragedy of Othello, when I see one of my students attempt to stifle a sinister giggle from the the right side of the room.

“Susie (names have been changed to protect the guilty), what are you doing?”  It’s more of a statement than a question, though, because I know what she’s doing.  The tapping finger, the downcast eyes, the angled backpack hoarding the desk space before her.  These are telltale signs.

“Cyberbullying.”  Oh.  We all chuckle because we know she is (mostly) not serious.

And then the classroom erupts into a frenzy of the five Ws (and an H) and frantic digging for phones because of what is happening right now, during fourth period, on Twitter.

I sigh. Clearly, I am not as exciting as Twitter.  I don’t move as fast.  I’m too wordy. Each of my sentences doesn’t end with some witty summative phrase immediately following what used to be known as a “pound key.” I get that part.

But here’s the part I don’t get:  I am a working mother of three and my phone, which is not quite educated enough to be considered “smart”, is tucked safely inside my purse, hidden away in my desk drawer.  The sound is off.  When I remember, I glance at it in the four minutes between classes.  But I don’t always remember.

the phone.  In the five classes I teach daily at a local private high school, there are six students without smartphones.  Six.  Why on earth does a teenager need a smartphone?  If I, a working mother of three, don’t need a smartphone, then why do they?

I’ll tell you why.

They need it for texting (I kind of miss the days when all they did was text).  They need it for Ruzzle.  They need it for Snapchat (Pictures that disappear?  Brilliant idea.  Really. I’m not even going to tell you what teenagers are doing with that.)  They need it for Fun Run.

And when I polled my second period class full of sophomores concerning what, exactly, they use their smartphones for, the answer was a resounding, simultaneous:  “TWITTER!”

Oh, Twitter.  Forget Facebook, my friends (and fellow parents).  They’re over liking and commenting.  They’re tweeting.  And retweeting.

Let me take a moment to say that I’m not some kind technology-and-social-media-hating curmudgeon.  I have a Facebook, I have a Twitter, I have a blog.  But what concerns me as a classroom teacher is the behavior I’m starting to see that seems to be a direct result of the overuse (to put it lightly) of smartphones, of being continuously plugged in.

They can’t keep themselves away.  And though some of them may use this handheld piece of technology appropriately (I had one boy tell me, “I like to use my phone to tweet.  tweet.  read sports articles” — be still my heart!), a great majority of them don’t. They use social media to gossip, to complain about their teachers (and their parents), to arbitrarily use foul language, to cheat on their school work, to post compromising pictures of themselves (I won’t tell you what they’ve shown me), to recount each event of each period of each day.

And they use it to gang up on each other.  To bully.  To be ugly and hateful. Just this week, a few of our girls participated in a Twitter cyberfight, slinging quick and disgusting insults at each other during the school day.  Things they would never say to each other’s faces. Things that would horrify the very people who gave them the smartphones in the first place.  And even though the fight was between two or three girls, the majority of our student body saw the exchange and even went so far as to involve themselves. (I used to work for a principal who told his students that if they stood around and watched a fight happen without doing anything about it, they were just as guilty as the fighters.  In my opinion, this is worse.  The bystanders keep it going.  They promote it by retweeting.)

And even though they’re probably going to hate me for it, I’m going to tell you, parents, that they use it to broadcast all the pieces of their lives that they want to keep from you.

In the minimal research I did for this post, I found enough to make me nervous, as their teacher, and as a parent.  So I told them that.

“You crept, Ms. Lavelle?”

“I did.  I crept.  Did you guys know that your Twitter profiles are basically public?  That even though I don’t ‘follow’ you, I can see what you tweet?”

the boys.  Their eyes widened, not out of concern for the publicness of their lives, but for what I might have seen.

Then one of them said, “But if you make it private, you can’t retweet.” Oh.

The truth is, I love these kids.  But what I’m seeing is starting to get downright scary. Every moment of their existences is fodder for social media, every thought they have needs to be put on display.  Even when some of those things should be kept quiet.  Especially when some of those things should be kept quiet.  How will they ever learn to discern?

The tragic flaw.

“You guys know enough about Shakespeare to know what happens in one of his tragedies.  Othello’s tragic flaw will be his downfall.”

“Hashtagspoileralert, Ms. Lavelle.”

Hashtagsigh.

I suppose, though, that there’s always a glimmer of hope.  That it’s not quite doomsday yet.  I leave you with a recent post made by a former student of mine on Facebook (yes, I’m old, so I still check Facebook):

facebook.  “Lost my phone today.  Thinking about going a semester without one if it doesn’t turn up.  If anyone has to talk to me or contact me for some reason, just Facebook me.  I’ll check it every now and then.”

Yes.  Every now and then.

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9 thoughts on “tweet tweet. tweedle-lee-dee.

  1. Congrats E! Direct hit on a really ugly use of technology. More parents should creep to see what their darlings are tweeting.

  2. Oh my goodness. Why are these students allowed to have their phones out in school? Am I completely naive here? I understand that we cannot (as teachers/administrators) keep them from owning them. But, why in the world are they able to hold them in their hands at school? On the parent front…I have a 6 year old. He loves TV, DS, Wii…you name it. I am constantly trying to hold the line on over-exposure to these things. I certainly enjoy my smart phone, and Downton Abby ;). I am not against technology. I am against excess. More to the point…I can virtually see my son become more of a human being when we are assembling Lego, or playing outside. He will not have a cell phone for quite some time. I hope that when he does…I can help him to understand the need for balance in using technology. Thanks for the frightening prospect, Erin;)!

    • It’s incredibly disturbing, I know. We used to have strict rules regarding cell phones, but that was a battle, too. (Imagine how much instructional time is wasted when you get into an argument with a student about taking his phone, and then you have a discipline issue on your hands. Truly. I could spend all day fighting the phone battle, but I wouldn’t be able to teach.)

      With our own kids, it’s a fine line, I think. I certainly don’t want my kids to seem sheltered, but we’re incredibly strict about TV and computer use. My school just gave me an iPad to use, and the girls know better than to ask for it. I just refuse to buy into the whole “technology-for-technology’s-sake” thing when it comes to kids, education, etc.

      And you’re right — my kids’ favorite thing in the world is camping, where there’s no TV, no internet. Just us and the woods.

  3. Oh my goodness, yes! We do blog about such similar things– didn’t even see this in my reader, I think WordPress is filtering what’s showing up… Boo! I’m afraid we’re becoming a nation of people addicted to technology and the instant high of public recognition. I’m like you, I barely look at my phone during the school day, but my sixteen year old sister is accessible by text at basically any time of day, even when she’s at school. This was a really interesting post, thanks for sharing! (And, what’s your twitter– I’ll follow you 😉

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