I’m a college student. My class has only 40 students. My professor left the classroom before class ended because, like he said, too many students were using phones while he was talking. It was not like there were phone sounds or the phones rang. He said before leaving that he would let us teach ourselves.

In this case, I’m quite curious about something:

  1. Would he be able or be allowed to not teach, and let us handle it ourselves and only come in to do the test?

  2. Would he be able to fail the whole class?

  3. Would he possibly react the same way if only 1 student used their phone without making any noise?

  • 16
    It depends on the severity and persistence of the disturbance. Some do not intervene if people use their phones silently. They accept students as adults, who are entitled to decide to spend all their study fees to be able to facebook against a pleasant lecture background noise. After all, they might even look up stuff in the internet (say). With noise, however, it is an entirely different story. However: ... Oct 17, 2019 at 16:08
  • 7
    ...a prof has the right to determine the pedagogical milestones of his course. He can decide that students do not learn well with mobiles active. Failure rates may hound him, too, so he is entitled to measures to improve studying. Whether this measure (leaving a room) is effective, I won't guess. But I can understand that he considers a situation with too many mobiles on not conducive to education and he should in principle have the choice to react to that in a way that he thinks will bring about a more effective change in students' material uptake. Oct 17, 2019 at 16:09
  • 13
    I recall first year at university a lecturer walked out when one student threw a paper plane (which hit the board in front of him). Next lecture when he walked in half the students threw planes - looking back both the walk out and the response of students seem a little immature. Oct 18, 2019 at 0:29
  • 6
    @DavidWaterworth Having a sense of humour as a lecturer can help getting the class on your side (instead of walking out). But having a whole swarm of planes thrown at you - well, someone clearly didn't do a proper job during high school time, and it's probably not just the students. Oct 18, 2019 at 2:19
  • 1
    Answers could vary wildly. At the places I have worked, the answers to these questions would be no, but a colleague told me that when he taught in Africa all those things were yes. Oct 18, 2019 at 3:18

5 Answers 5


I've occasionally done "shocking" things to send an important message. It might be that all he intends is to make it a dramatic statement that you (the class) should take it more seriously.

I doubt that he intends to not return, and also doubt that he would get any administrative support for that.

I've always been willing to fail the entire class. Also willing to give full marks to the entire class. But that depends on individual, not group, behavior. Again, failing person A because of the actions of B would be unethical and would draw no administrative support.

If it is only one student then, perhaps, a more nuanced and less dramatic response would probably be called for.

In one of my "dramatic explosions" not every student was guilty. But even the ones who were more conscientious got an important message about proper behavior. In this case it was more about their own lack of preparation. There is a scene in Stand And Deliver in which the teacher, Jaime Escalante, denies entry to the classroom to a student who doesn't have his homework paper ready to turn in: "If you don't have a ticket, you don't get to watch the show."

But hopefully, the need for such drama is infrequent.

  • 17
    "If you don't have a ticket, you don't get to watch the show." - I would have thought the course fees were the ticket? I get the point that if someone isn't engaged in learning, there's not much point attending class. What I wonder is where the teacher's assumption that the only way to engage is to uncritically listen to them comes from. Maybe students are cross-referencing information online? Actually knowing the best way for all your students to learn would require some sort of telepathy. Shouldn't modern institutions would be more attuned to diverse methods of student learning?
    – Bruno
    Oct 18, 2019 at 4:44
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    @Bruno I can't imagine you seriously and honestly think people on their phone during class are "cross-referencing information"…
    – Blackhole
    Oct 18, 2019 at 8:16
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    @Bruno "I would have thought the course fees were the ticket? " - I agree, modern institutions should be more attuned to modern reality. Why not just have a sliding scale of course fees corresponding to the grade you want? $100 gets you a C, $1,000 gets you an A. No need to waste time sitting in lecture rooms, taking tests, etc! </irony>.
    – alephzero
    Oct 18, 2019 at 10:12
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    @Blackhole when I was in school, I would very frequently look things up during class. (not on my phone at the time, because it wasn't capable of accessing the internet in a meaningful way, but I would use it as a calculator.) Now I frequently do look things up in meetings. Phone, laptop, book, doesn't necessarily mean disengaged.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Oct 18, 2019 at 13:38
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    Bruno and Mr.Mindor are completely right. By paying for those classes you are paying for the access, and it's up to the student to get the best she can. Also cross referencing, or googling info is the most normal. Sometimes teachers dont explain concepts in an understandable way and searching online at the moment is the way to go to make your notes. Also, @Yakk, do not forget that for many centuries teachers have been employees or servants, either of the wealthy or of the state.And it has worked, but self learning has always been quite effective.
    – deags
    Oct 18, 2019 at 15:07

Would he be able or be allowed to not teaching, let us handle it ourselves and only come to do the test?

Depends on your university's policies, but in general no. Instructors of record have wide latitude over how they manage their classrooms, but refusing to teach for weeks at a time would almost certainly be over the line at virtually every institution.

Would he be able to fail the whole class?

Some professors have tried this and the university generally intervenes. Certainly failing an entire class because of a few bad actors is difficult to defend. If there is a reasonable final exam and not a single student manages to pass it, then failing the entire class could be an appropriate outcome. However, this would reflect poorly on the professor's teaching skills (and/or the university's admissions policies).

Would he possibly react the same way if only 1 student use the phone without making any noise?

You'd have to ask him. Certainly this reaction would be more difficult to justify in such a case.

  • Re: "reflect poorly on... the university's admissions policies". Keep in mind in the U.S. half of college students are attending community colleges, and most community colleges are open admissions -- i.e., no admissions policies. Oct 18, 2019 at 14:17
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    Fair enough, though I think the "and/or" covers this :-)
    – cag51
    Oct 18, 2019 at 15:07

This could be a defensible action if everyone in the classroom were on their phones. As other answers have pointed out, professors tend to be given rather wide latitude by their institutions (especially if they're tenured), and there may arguably be some value in "shock-and-awe" style approaches like this one when used sparingly.

However, the sticking point here is this sentence, which I've modified for emphasis:

My professor left the classroom before class ended because, like he said, too many students were using phones while he was talking.

"Too many" does not mean all. Therefore, what the professor did was unfair and inappropriate. If there's one student sitting there in the classroom who honestly wants to learn and is doing everything they can to pay attention, then the professor is obligated to perform their job out of respect for and contractual obligation to that student.

It is not the fault of the students who are not using cell phones that "too many" of their peers are using cell phones. There isn't anything you can reasonably expect the non-cell-phone-using students to do in order to get their cell-phone-using peers to stop—and certainly not during the class. Therefore, it is unreasonable to punish the non-cell-phone-using students for their cell-phone-using peers' actions.

Aside from that and whether or not it is permissible, I'd judge this as a major over-reaction, assuming that what you said about the lack of disruptions is true. At the university level, students are mature enough to be responsible for their own education and decisions. Instructors can and should support them, encourage them, and possibly even cajole them into making the correct decisions. But the students are still ultimately responsible for making and paying the price for their own decisions. Therefore, if a student wants to sit in a lecture without paying attention, that's really their prerogative. It only becomes something that the instructor needs to address if their choosing-not-to-pay-attention becomes a distraction for other students who are trying to pay attention. As, for example, would happen if phones were ringing or otherwise making noise. And at that point, the "dramatic gesture" would be to kick out those students who were creating a distraction, then continue the lecture for the benefit of those students who wanted to hear it.

  • 1
    I upvoted your answer. Frankly, I'm surprised that many of the other answers seem to support the professor's actions, even if indirectly. It seems clearly and obviously unethical to ignore the students who are paying attention in an attempt to send a message to those the professor thinks are not paying attention.
    – dwizum
    Oct 18, 2019 at 20:18
  • I also upvoted - anon dvd though. It's unfair on the diligent students to walk out, as it's depriving them. The phone users won't be adversly affected, as they disengaged themselves anyhow. They are the ones who ought to be not in the lecture. They've vitually absented themselves anyway!
    – Tim
    Oct 19, 2019 at 7:55

Would he be able or be allowed to not teach, and let us handle it ourselves and only come in to do the test?

It wouldn't come to that. He "counter-provoked" you to realize you (= the students taking the class) were crazy for not making sure that class can be given without interruption, and that it would lead to ruin. Probably and hopefully you will take the hint, individually and collectively, and next time there will be no or almost-no students busy with their phones.

Would he possibly react the same way if only 1 student used their phone without making any noise?

No. He would either ignore it or call out that student and make him/her put their phone away.


It depends on the country and if the school is public or private. If the teacher is considered an employee and does that then he can be charged for abandoning work or breaking his contract of services with the school if the entire class goes to complain to the school administration, in which case the teacher could even be fired. BUT on the vast majority of situations... yes, he can. To answer the questions:

1-Would he be able or be allowed to not teaching, let us handle it ourselves and only come to do the test?

R- Yes. However petty and childish that is he can and would. Of course he should be reported, but best the student can do is ask another teacher of the same subject/class to allow you as listener (just to enter class and hear the lecture). Modern times do require modern solutions too, so making a scandal in social media might help. On the other hand, it could be argued that he was teaching you all a lesson.

2-Would he be able to fail the whole class? R- Yes. He can, or fail someone he doesnt like. In which case the whole class or the affected ones can make an official petition or procedure, based on the class's plan deliverable homeworks, to be graded by an external source. That is a normal procedure in most universities.

3-Would he possibly react the same way if only 1 student use the phone without making any noise?
R- That is hard to answer without knowing the person, but petty behavior does come from petty people, so yes, he could, or he might try to use that student as an example for everyone.

Having said that, you should consider that its basic respect and manners to not be messing with your phone when someone is speaking to you. More so, it's a class where you are supposed to be learning, so you'd be wasting the chance. If he did stated at the start of the course that he would not allow using phones, then the class is at fault.

However, to take into account is that there are many teacher, the older ones specially, that do not understand just how integrated is modern learning and technology. You could be taking notes on a tablet/notbook/smart-paperbook, check what he says and references on the phone, sending the photos of the whiteboard to the class's chat group, using the cloud to share the materials, etc . If that was the case, the whole group needs to speak to the teacher about it and get clear what is expected or allowed.

  • 2
    What would be the difference between public/private? Oct 17, 2019 at 18:25
  • Public- Generally teachers are protected by syndicates/unions (which in many countries are mafias), so they can do (or do not do) almost whatever they want as long as they dont cause trouble for the leaders. Private- There are 2 types. The for profit where the teacher would get repercussions because the alumni are clients and the objective is to get them to graduate (here there would be consequences for the teacher), or the private serious ones where the teacher can do almost anything and the school will back up the teacher to retain status.
    – deags
    Oct 18, 2019 at 14:58
  • Your language suggests you're disuccsing secondary education. This site is for tertiary. Oct 18, 2019 at 18:13
  • @ Azor Ahai Language does not suggest. It speaks regardless of level where only initial ones would differ. It could be for a secondary, university level, MBA, PDH or POSTDOC. It's the same.
    – deags
    Oct 19, 2019 at 16:08
  • I don't understand what your second sentence means, or what postdocs have to do with this. But in tertiary education, we don't have "teachers" and very few lecturers/professors are unions, and certainly no one would consider university lecturer unions to be "mafias." Oct 19, 2019 at 20:28

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