Teacher quits; says students are addicted to phones

education, high school, learning, technology and people concept - student boy hands with smartphone texting on lesson

TUCSON, Ariz. — A teacher has thrown in the towel after battling his students to put away their phones.

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Mitchell Rutherford is an 11-year veteran of the classroom but no more, The Wall Street Journal reported.

He told KVOA he will no longer teach at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona. The reason is he can’t compete with his students’ phones.

“I have been struggling with mental health this year mostly because of what I identified as basically phone addiction with the students,” Rutherford said.

He told The Wall Street Journal he used to embrace technology but kids were not connecting anymore with him or in school.

At first he thought this year was going to be better, but that was short-lived.

Students would wear headphones in class with them telling him that it was to ease anxiety. But he said it was more.

“There was this low-energy apathy and isolation.”

He said by October half of his students were failing and they told him they didn’t want to be in school and didn’t care about their grades.

“This year something shifted, and it’s just like they are numbing themselves, they are just checking out of society, they’re just like can’t get rid of it, they can’t put it away,” he told KVOA.

Their apathy had an effect on him, causing him to become anxious and depressed, thinking that he was the problem.

But then he realized it wasn’t him, it was the phones.

Rutherford said he tried to offer extra credit, teaching about good sleep habits and how to cut down on screen time before bed. He said he faced the problem head-on every day, trying to teach his students healthy habits, going so far as to make a “phone jail” basket.

He also took them on nature walks and taught them about mindfulness and meditation.

It didn’t work.

Rutherford told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t blame his students, telling them that the apps are designed to be addictive, going so far as to teach about the neurobiology of addiction.

“I would walk up to kids and say, ‘Give me your phone,’ and they would clutch it, and I would say that’s what an alcoholic would do if you tried to take away their bottle,” he told the newspaper.

He said there is a solution to phone addiction, a condition that he likens to a drug addiction.

“As a society, we need to prioritize educating our youth and protecting our youth and allowing their brains and social skills and happiness to develop in a natural way without their phones,” Rutherford told KVOA.

Rutherford plans on continuing teaching but not at his current school, instead wanting to teach with an online college-prep school or a vocational program for high-school students.

“Part of me feels like I’m abandoning these kids. I tell kids to do hard things all the time and now I’m leaving?” Rutherford said. “But I decided I’m going to try something else that doesn’t completely consume me and drain me.”

He also wants to help teens be able to put their phones down during the school day, a challenge he started this year with some positive results.

Rutherford assigned a digital detox to his classes that was for a lab grade. Students who typically didn’t care about their grades rose to the challenge and showed how much they were not on their phones.

Student Isabel Richey said she was on her phone six hours a day mostly watching TikTok.

“I would be on my phone at the beginning of every class and never get off,” she told The Wall Street Journal. She has slashed that habit to an hour a day. She has also been doing more homework, reading nine novels and is in a better mood and has less stress.

“I can completely understand why Mr. Rutherford is tired of trying to get through to students,” Isabel told the newspaper. “I’m surprised more of my teachers haven’t been pushed to that point.”

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