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As we launched another school year, I was thinking that my Dad (a former high school science teacher) wouldn’t have fared too well in today’s era of cellphones, iPods and fidget spinners. How, among all of these accepted distractions, does a teacher catch and keep the attention of his students?

My husband, a retired professor, once said he thought he was going to have to start giving out prizes like on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. College and post-secondary is a whole different scenario, I’m sure, with adult students assuming the right to bear phones and watch full-length movies on laptops during class.

Surely in high school there’s still a chance to gain control of the classroom?

I know the challenge to make lessons interesting has always been there. It seems teachers need more than just a passion for their subject in order to keep the interest of their students.

In the 1980s, when I was attending high school, my favourite teachers were those who made lessons come alive. My English lit teacher had us act out the Shakespeare play instead of just trying to understand how the quality of mercy is not strained. My geography teacher supplemented the lesson plan with readings from National Geographic and my history teacher used film to enhance what we were reading in our textbooks.

I’m not sure who decided it was necessary to allow students the use of cellphones in the classroom. I don’t think they were doing anyone a favour by making this concession. I hear there are some brave, trail-blazing teachers out there insisting the phones stay in the lockers during class. But for the most part it’s a valuable item that the student has the right to carry at all times. Parents say they need to be able to reach their kids at all times.

We did just fine without an immediate connection to our parents during school. If they needed us, they sent a message through the main office. Can you imagine?

Even some employers are realizing how distracting cellphones can be during meetings. Many insist that employees check their phones at the door before they enter the conference room. It’s like gangsters at a mafia meeting: check your gun at the door. And I hear some adults are even bringing fidget spinners to work. They say it helps them focus. I can’t imagine how it would feel to be giving a presentation as the audience plays with little spinning toys on the conference table.

The other thing that has changed about school – and this breaks my heart a bit – is that there is no more traditional library. There’s a resource room, or a learning commons, with a dozen computers and a single wall of books. It makes sense, I guess, to encourage students to research online, where they will find the most up-to-date information. The learning commons also takes up considerably less room than a traditional library.

But I miss the books.

When I was a little girl, I would walk from Kemptville Public to North Grenville District High School to wait until my father finished work. I did that waiting in the library. One day, I discovered the Nancy Drew detective novels and from then on, there was no turning back. I started at number one and read my way through all 100 tomes.

The librarian reported this accomplishment to my father and suggested I be tested to see if I qualified for enriched learning programs due to my obviously high IQ. I remember my Dad laughed and said, She doesn’t have a high IQ! She just loves to read!

Well those afternoons in the library fostered a lifetime love of reading and learning. I suppose you could argue that a kid waiting in today’s high school library could do the same sort of learning by sitting at a computer – but it just isn’t the same as with books.

There’s nothing like a library full of actual books – row upon row of stories and characters to choose from. I feel sorry for kids who grow up without a real library in their schools – and I hope they get a library card so they can borrow from the public library.

I know today’s schools are designed to adapt to the changing needs of our youth and their myriad learning styles. Progress is a good thing – particularly when it recognizes that not every person learns or works the same way.

But I honestly think the cellphones have got to go. At least until break time.

Troy Media columnist Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.

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