Text Etiquette

It's a hot topic, and it's on my mind, because the Spring of 09 was, for me, as a college instructor, the worst "texting" semester of my life. Students, even good students who I know and respect, seemed unable to stop themselves from texting anytime anywhere no matter how small the class (12 students, in one case) and how interesting the class discussion (re-writing the US Constitution is usually a bit of a draw).

I'm "on vacation" right now, but if you teach, "vacation" always has to go in quotes -- yes, I'm not actively teaching in a classroom, but I'm reading and thinking and rebuilding and restructuring and doing all the things necessary to my job that I don't have time to do when class is in session. And one of the biggest things on my mind is how to jiujitsu my students into setting down their f*ing phones and learning.

There is no prohibition that will work. No matter how many rules you make, no matter how draconian you make them, one of the features of texting is that the text-er believes him or herself invisible: forget the glassy eyes (skilled texters don't look down, but they do get a zombie stare on their faces), the forward hunched shoulders, and the light tapping coming from under their desks -- they believe they are not seen nor heard, and they have no concept of how they are disrupting the class, retarding the discussion, and preventing their own learning.

Most of the articles I've read on the subject are about etiquette: whether or not it's impolite to text at a meeting or at a dinner table, etc. And I think they're on to something. But most 19-year-olds are not particularly concerned with maintaining their Emily Post cred. They are, however, of the prime mating age, which means that they do not want to be embarrassed and they do not want to be considered nasty.

Which is when it occurred to me that the prohibition needs to be one not of politeness but of grossness. In this spirit, I've invented an acronym:


F orbidden
A nd/or
R ude
T exting

I will teach this acronym to my students, and every time I catch one of them texting, I will say, "Kayla, you just F.A.R.T.ed in class! This is counting against your participation grade."

With a little luck, I will only have to say it once.

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