United States

'It Was Destroying My Mental Health': Arizona Teacher Quits Job Over Students' Phone Addiction

A biology teacher at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona, resigned due to the mental strain caused by his students' constant phone use.

Representative image Photo: Pexels

An Arizona high school teacher has resigned, citing his students' rampant phone use as the primary reason for his declining mental health. Mitchell Rutherford, a biology teacher at Sahuaro High School for over ten years, decided to quit after numerous unsuccessful attempts to disconnect his students from their devices led to severe stress.

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

Rutherford believes the issue stems from the isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he says led to a breakdown in social skills among students. He noticed a significant shift in his students' behaviour this past Fall, recognising that they were increasingly disengaged and reliant on their phones.

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

By October, half of Rutherford's students were failing his class and expressed indifference towards their education. This lack of motivation contributed to Rutherford's growing anxiety and depression, making him question his effectiveness as a teacher.

Sahuaro High School's policy discourages phone use in class, but enforcement is left to individual teachers. Rutherford compared the students' phone usage to drug addiction, describing it as even more pervasive than substances like opioids and cocaine.

“Opioids, obviously a huge problem, cocaine, heroin, all of those drugs, alcohol, it’s all a big problem, but like sugar, even greater than that, and then phones, even greater than that,” he said.

In an effort to combat this, Rutherford offered incentives for students to reduce their screen time. He implemented activities such as monitoring screen usage, discussing the importance of sleep, and creating a "phone jail" where students could place their devices during class. Despite these efforts, the addiction persisted.

Rutherford even introduced nature walks and meditation techniques but found that students clung to their phones like an alcoholic would to a bottle, reinforcing his belief in the severity of the problem.

A study by Common Sense Media last year found that 97% of students use their cell phones during school hours. This issue has sparked broader conversations, with Governor Kathy Hochul recently proposing a ban on smartphones in schools, suggesting students use basic phones that can only send texts.

Parents shared Rutherford's frustration but had mixed feelings about his resignation.

“I kind of agree with him, not really agree with him for quitting, but I agree with this stance he’s taking because he’s not able to do his job,” parent Chris Anderson told the NBC affiliate.

Bernadette Sauced, another parent, added, “I think it’s understandable. I feel the frustration, I have two teenage boys so they are on their phones constantly, and it’s a big distraction.”

Rutherford's last day of teaching was May 23. Reflecting on his decision, he called it bittersweet but necessary for his well-being.

“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?” he said. “But I decided I’m going to try something else that doesn’t completely consume me and drain me.”