Whatever happened to …

… school bells?

I don’t know. This may end up being a poll of some sorts.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day over coffee and the topic somehow turned to school bells.

He was quite shocked when I let him know that I taught in a school that didn’t use school bells! Yes, it had a bell and a rather sophisticated unit to synchronize all the clocks in the school and program the bells. But, we never used them. I’m told that it was the philosophy of our principal.

  1. Bells don’t dismiss classes; teachers dismiss classes
  2. Students need the discipline to know that they need to be in class on time
  3. Universities and colleges didn’t have bells so we need to prepare kids for that environment

Now, I taught in a secondary school so there was no playing in the playground outside before school. Students just trudged into the building from their buses!

In fact, it wasn’t until the first fire drill that I actually heard the bell and it scared the heck out of me. I’d never heard it ring before.

Later, as a consultant visiting the school, I noticed that the new principal had a different philosophy and there were bells all over the place. Before and at the end of classes and the five minute warning that you had to get into class.

In my elementary school, we did have bells. In fact, our classroom had a door in the front that led into the principal’s office. I guess it was designed for the teaching principal. Ours taught us Mathematics. As a result, the door was always open in case he had a visitor. It was a nice distraction at times.

There was a button on the wall that, when pressed, would ring the bell. It was a real treat when it was your turn to go and press it. We had this secret pact among us to see if we could actually let everyone out for lunch early!

Let’s check in for a Sunday.

  • Did you go to a school where bells signalled the start and stop of everything?
  • Do you have bells in your current school and use them?
  • Do you remember a bell or a buzzer?
  • Or maybe it’s a bit of a song that plays to give a kinder, gentler approach to being on time?
  • Can you remember you or your students being “done early” and have to sit there waiting for the bell to ring?
  • What is the procedure when the bell rings during a test? Is it automatically over?

I’d enjoy people checking in with your realities. Please do so in the comments.

This post originally appeared on:


If you read it anywhere else, it’s not the original.

10 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Doug, having taught at now 8 schools, I can say that all of them had bells but to varying degrees. Some had warning bells for other warning bells for the actual bells, and others, had them just at the start and end of the day and the nutrition break times. As a teacher on duty, I rely on bells to tell me when duty starts and ends and when kids need to move outside to inside (or inside or outside). But as a kindergarten teacher, whose class doesn’t observe nutrition breaks, the bells can be an interruption. Kids, like us though, get used to tuning them out or making sense of them (at my last school, the children always knew that the second bell at second break meant a milk delivery was on the way). Some people that are sensitive to noise find bells to be a biological stressor. Personally, I’d prefer less than more … but I’m now at a school that doesn’t use warning bells, and I’m always looking for one to signify the start of duty. So here I am, Miss Anti-Bell, wanting more. 🙂 Can I just never be completely satisfied? 🙂 I will say that announcements trigger me more than bells, as they always come on so quickly that I’m afraid that I’ve missed something important. With phones in some classrooms now, the announcement protocol has changed. I was even at a school once that had different buzzer combinations to signal a call for caretakers, the principal, and the secretaries. Do buzzers fit under bells, announcements, or something altogether different? I’m curious to know what others have to say about this great topic!



  2. I’ve never worked at a school without bells! We even have the beeping signal for the caretaker at my current school. I was a nanny for kids who attended an old school & someone had to physically go outside with a hand bell to signal the end of recess. That happens for the ELK at my school who have a different schedule for recess than the rest of the school. I wonder what it would be like if we had no bells? My wish is that we could get rid of announcements but I think I’m in the minority.


  3. Gee, Lisa, that brought back a memory from elementary school. To set the stage, we had a substantial playground and one day the the bells were broken. The principal and a number of teachers had to come out and try to round us all up at the end of recess.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 1) Many schools I worked in had bells. I never really liked electronic ‘tones,’ but smiled every time I heard the ‘songette’ from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to begin and end classes.

    2) I have a cast iron school bell hanging on the fence in my backyard. It was inherited from my In-laws. It’s beautiful.

    3) 20 years ago, the June I was appointed VP, I attended the year end get together for administrators.
    Retiring Principals were given an old style hand bell. I thought that was the coolest thing! Over the years that changed and they were given watches – something I never understood. A watch is something a retiree rarely needs. I bemoaned this fact to our local President and my VP (both of whom I love.) They arranged to find and restore an honest to God antique teacher’s hand bell for me when I retired. It’s displayed proudly in our living room.

    Thanks for making me smile this morning, Doug.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a firm believer reducing the distractions during the instructional day. In our school it has to be very important for a school wide message to occur. Announcements are online (including OCanada) and the support team all have walkie talkies for student safety. We do have bells to signal the start and end to the day and nutrition break times.

    It has become our culture.

    . I really notice the difference when visiting other schools and they have constant school wide announcements and bells signalling every movement break.


  6. “The Bells! The Bells”

    Bells throughout the day were a part of my experience in both elementary and secondary panels for all but one year of my many years in school as student and educator. (The year before I headed off to do my teaching degree, I worked as an EA in a school in inner Toronto that had handbells for the teachers on duty to bring the kids inside at the end of recess. No bells otherwise.)

    I’ve never found bells to be overly pleasant, and I agree with Aviva that they can be quite a jarring experience when they’re not expected. Bells located in small rooms or directly above that spot you need to stand for whatever reason can be particularly troublesome. (Masking tape can be judiciously applied to take the edge off the really loud ones.) I recall lobbying a couple times for something like the tones heard in a subway as an alert, but of course that has always been way too expensive to retrofit in an existing school.

    Despite the fact that “bells don’t dismiss you, the teacher does,” there’s nothing like the interruption of a bell to cause everyone’s salivary glands to kick into overdrive at lunch or nutrition breaks. You would think somebody would do a study or something about that!

    Before the Internet and cell phones and connected devices became a thing, it always bothered me if the school’s automatic bell ringing timer wasn’t synchronized with the CBC. I’d grown up watching my dad synchronize the pendulum clock with the 1 PM National Time Signal on CBC radio, and so when digital watches came along, it was easy to do that once and then be in sync with the rest of the country. Of course, if the school timer was off and if you worked in a school that had the old new-fangled clock synchronizing mechanisms, then you were doomed to continually having to add or subtract minutes depending upon the timepiece you were using at the moment in order to predict the bells. Of course, it was worse if your clock, for whatever reason, wasn’t synchronized with the office. Nowadays, it seems those systems don’t work anymore (you can still find the wiring connections on the walls though), and my classroom clocks in recent years have all be in the plastic kind that hang on a nail with a AA battery providing the juice. Those are nice because you can always replace the battery if it stops working, and adjust your classroom time to match all the computers, iPads, chrome books, AND your watch — all those things are connected to the Internet and so they all have a direct line to the Actual Real Time.

    This past June, I attended the ETFO-local year-end dinner. As a tradition, each retiring teacher is presented with an engraved school handbell, and all the retirees simultaneously ”ring out” their final year, to the applause of the remaining attendees. It makes for a rather loud 20 or 30 seconds, but everyone participating seems to enjoy the experience. I haven’t removed the clapper from mine (although I know there are some who have) but I take care to hold the clapper when I move the bell. It’s nice to look at, but I don’t need to hear it ring!

    June 28th, 2019

    Liked by 1 person

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