Substitute Preparedness

Electronic Devices in Schools

Learn policies and strategies to manage electronic devices in schools
student sneaking a cell phone while other students do classwork

Electronic devices are now a standard part of most classrooms, and of course, personal electronic devices are integral in our own and in our students' everyday lives. This article discusses policies and strategies to help you manage electronic devices in the classroom.

Personal Electronic Devices - Substitutes

Do not use your personal devices (cell phone, smart watch, etc.) during class. Even if students have an independent task, substitutes are expected to be actively monitoring and supporting students. Keep any devices on silent so that incoming calls or messages do not interrupt the class.

You may only use your device when students are not present, such as lunch or a preparation period. You may also use your device if there is a serious medical or safety emergency in the classroom. It is permissible to use your phone as a timer to manage time frames for learning activities; in these situations, it is helpful to be up front with students: "You have 15 minutes to complete the practice problems on this page; I am setting a timer on my phone for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, you will turn in your paper."

Personal Electronic Devices - Students

By middle school, almost all students have cell phones, smart watches, and/or AirPods. Many students bring their gaming devices, such as the Nintendo Switch. Even many elementary students have these devices! It is always good to ask at each school what their specific policy is for devices. Generally, most schools do not allow students to be on personal devices throughout the day, or at the least, not during classes.

It is imperative that you uphold school policy. Allowing students to be on their devices might seem harmless or that it is something that you can't enforce as a substitute; you might even think it will make you the "cool" substitute to let it slide, or that it's fine once students finish their work. However, it is not okay and can lead to significant problems, including cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and recordings of you or other students. Even if students tell you, "Our teacher lets us be on our phones," you are expected to follow school policy and will be held responsible for issues that arise for ignoring school policy. Generally, students are very defensive about having devices taken away, so they are willing to be compliant when reminded of school policy. If repeated violations require a device to be confiscated, call for a staff member to help.

School/Classroom Electronic Devices

It is common in today's classrooms to have a cart full of laptops or iPads for student use. At some schools, students are issued a device for the year, which they bring to school and take home every day.

It is important that you look at the teacher's lesson plans carefully to understand if students will use classroom devices for any of the day's activities. If devices are not required, it is best to keep them put away for the day, even for situations that the teacher might normally allow, such as students finishing work early. If students ask, you can tell them, "I'm sorry, but your teacher's plans do not involve using any classroom devices today."

If the teacher's directions or activities require the use of classroom devices, it is important to keep students orderly when retrieving, using, and returning their devices. For classrooms that have a cart, teachers often assign students a number so that they use the same device consistently. This list may be posted on the cart itself or may be in the teacher's notes. To avoid behavior issues, excuse students a few at a time to get or return devices from the cart. If the cart is locked, the teacher should share the combination or key location in the lesson plans. Ask a nearby staff member of the office for support if you need assistance.

When students are using classroom devices, make sure that you are circulating and being attentive to misuse. Like anyone, students can be easily distracted and go off-task to unrelated websites and activities, such as games, YouTube, and so on. Another common issue is students touching other students' devices (closing tabs, closing the laptop, etc.). Monitor and reinforce appropriate treatment of devices; some common issues include students pounding the keys while typing, slamming the laptop closed, or pulling off the keys. For technical or login issues, ask a nearby staff member or the office for support.

For secondary grades, make sure that every device is accounted for at the end of each class. At the end of the day, make sure that all devices are accounted for and plugged in so that they can be charged for the next day.

Related Issues and Policies

It is important to understand some related issues around electronic devices in classrooms. Follow the policies shared below to keep yourself and students safe from wrongdoing.

Pictures and Recordings

Substitutes are not permitted to take pictures or recordings of students. This includes anyone who may be subbing for their own child's class, or a friend's child's class, etc. There are state and federal laws in place to protect the privacy of students, and violations may be subject to civil or criminal penalties. It is not permissible to take pictures or recordings for the purpose of documenting misbehavior; substitutes are expected to ask a nearby staff member or call the office for support in cases of extreme misbehavior; for other instances, leave detailed notes for the teacher to address when they return.

If you see students taking pictures or recordings, or if a student complains that someone has taken pictures or recordings, call the office for support to resolve the situation.

Social Media Posts

Do not post on social media about specific teachers, classrooms, or students. Even posts meant to be positive or complimentary can upset school officials or families in the community if they name teachers or students (can be perceived as a violation of privacy or safety). Positive posts that are kept general about a school are okay. Substitutes should not post negative comments about a school or anyone in a school on social media, and any conflicts should be resolved by contacting Senya's customer service team.

As discussed above, you should not take any pictures or recordings. Posting pictures or recordings of students online violates privacy and puts student safety at risk; violations may be subject to civil or criminal penalties.

Personal Communication with Others

Be careful with any personal communication that you have with others about details from working in schools. Texts, emails, phone calls, and messages with a spouse, family members, friends, or others should not share names or details about staff or students.

It is common for substitutes to chat with family or friends over the phone while on lunch; keep in mind how the things you share, or the tone that you give off, might be perceived by staff who overhear. Also keep in mind that anytime you share, and with anyone you might share, a simple comment could be repeated to different social circles and find its way back to create an issue.


By following the policies and strategies discussed in this article, you will protect yourself and your students from bad situations that can arise with the use of technology in classrooms. If you ever have questions, you are encouraged to talk with staff at the school where you are subbing or to reach out to the Senya customer service team during your off hours.

Download the Senya App!
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Schools, Teachers, and Substitutes Love Senya

Join our community of educators today, and get your substitute teaching side hustle started!
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play
A mockup of the Senya app's Log In page on an iPhone screen.