In a recent article, a Paterson Public School teacher was involved in a teacher student fight over a cell phone. The teacher did not sustain any injuries. Teachers can avoid teacher student fights with students over a cell phone by establishing a positive relationship with students.

The Paterson Public School teacher student fight received national exposure. The Daily News revealed that a 23-second clip which showed a freshman at John F. Kennedy High School in Paterson manhandling a middle-aged teacher. The student wraps his arm around the teacher, drags him through the front of the classroom and then throws him onto the ground, and appears to hit him several times.

The physics teacher, who is 62, makes no attempt to fight back and none of the other students try to stop the fight, but one mutters, “Yo, chill!” when the student throws down his teacher as another classmate calls for security.

The 16-year-old student allegedly assaulted the teacher because the man took his cellphone from another student who was using it in class, according to the Bergen County Record. The assailant appears to be trying to snatch the phone from the teacher’s hands at the beginning of the video.

The student was arrested Friday and has been suspended from school. The teacher has worked for the district since 2003, the Record reports.

The first challenge with the teacher confiscating the student’s cell phone is that he did not establish positive relationships with the students.

This evident because the other students did not come to the rescue of the teachers. A recent teacher student fight in Baltimore revealed that students who care about their teachers will intercede on the teacher behalf. At the end of this teacher student fight you can see a student breaking up the fight. After the Paterson teacher student fight, Peter Tirri, president of the Paterson Education Association, told the paper he was “disappointed” to see the other students didn’t try to stop the fight.

Another challenge to consider is that the cell phone has now become the lifeline for many students and that magnifies the importance of the cell phone to the student.

By economical standards, students are on the lower end of the economical structure. Possession of a cell phone becomes more important to them because they are unable to have many possessions. Students use cell phones to communicate with friends and brand themselves. This is why it is so important to be careful to establish positive relationships with students before attempting to confiscate any of their personal property.

There are several additional benefits to developing positive relationships with students. Positive teacher student relationships:

  1. Improves instruction and learning
  2. Reduces confrontations that lead to teacher student fights

How can teachers develop positive teacher student relationships that avoid teacher student fights?

Greet your students with a smile. Black students are experts at evaluating nonverbal behavior. As the teacher, you must ensure that your smile is genuine. One practice that I used was to just smile in general. I remember one day when a Social Studies teacher asked me, “How do you do it?” He wanted to know how I was able to keep an upbeat attitude. My response was, “Why should I allow students to get me out of the nice person that I am just because they do not know how to behave.”

Shake their hand. I used to stand at the door and extend my hand. Those that felt positive towards me would shake my hand others would whisk by. That provided me a barometer for those students who may cause trouble later in the class. In the Black community, touch is reserved for family members. A polite handshake will introduce the family atmosphere to the student. A word of caution. Do not require that students look you in the eye when they shake your hand. Students who respect the teacher will not initially give direct eye contact.

Teach them success. Students will remain oppositional if they believe that they cannot have success in your classroom. It is like a football team. The teams that have success are the most cooperative with the coach. The teams that do not have success are the least cooperative with the coach.

Provide them with positive feedback. Call them Mr. or Miss. Black students are accustomed with sharing knowledge on an equal basis with adults. Requiring them to call you Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. and then you return the same response will make them believe that playing field is level.

Teachers can avoid teacher student fights over cell phones by first establishing positive teacher student classroom relationships.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012


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Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships









“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.

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2 thoughts on “How can teachers avoid teacher student fights over cell phones?”

  1. More appropriately, I think the schools should communicate with parents and inform them about school policy. Given that the cost of having a cell phone is pretty nominal, I’m not really sure that they represent some higher status as the good doc proclaims. One piece of advice that might help in some classrooms is to integrate cell phone usage into the teaching / learning process. Given the connectivity students now have via such a small portable device, it would be powerful to help them understand other uses of the phone.

    Even with this, the bottom line has to do with respect; i.e. respect for rules and for persons in-charge. Let’s not make excuses for hard-headed students. This kind of blatant disregard for any authority and disrespect as displayed by students who would fight about a cell phone, will not serve them well. If they want to fight let them fight over who read the most books or, who got the highest grade on a test, or who is best informed about current events or, who got in the best college….

    I guess what I am saying is: stop making excuses for inappropriate behavior. That other students did not come to the aid of the teacher does point to deeper issues that require more time and attention than can be given here.

    1. The real question that I have to ask myself is: Why is a 62 year old White man confronting a Black teenager? He should know that he can not win that battle and leave it up to the administrators.

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