High School Teacher Blames Student Phone 'Addiction’ for Why He’s Quitting the Classroom: ‘Something Shifted’

Mitchell Rutherford, a biology teacher at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, said the cellphone problem in classrooms got worse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

An Arizona man who has been teaching for over a decade says he is leaving his job over students’ dependency on cellphones.

Mitchell Rutherford, a biology teacher at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, is leaving his position on Thursday, May 23, according to NBC affiliate KVOA.

The 35-year-old has grown frustrated by the cellphone problem, which he believes got worse after schools closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, per The Wall Street Journal. Since then, he believes "something shifted" in the kids.

“I was beginning to think I was the problem,” he told the newspaper, noting that students would tell him they did not care about their grades.

PEOPLE reached out to Rutherford and Sahuaro High School for comment, but they did not immediately respond.

Related: High School Valedictorian Gives Moving Speech Hours After Dad’s Funeral: 'I'm Going to Do It for Him'

At Sahuaro High School, teachers are left to enforce the school’s rule against cellphone use in class, according to WSJ.

Before the pandemic shut down schools, Rutherford said students were more apt to obey their teachers when asked to put their phones away. Now, it is much more difficult.

Rutherford did what he could to try and curtail the problem, including setting up a “phone jail” in his room that was barely used, according to KVOA. He even tried to offer extra credit for limited phone use.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

In April, Rutherford challenged his students to cut their screen time by finding a non-screen-related hobby, per WSJ. For some students, it has worked.

Still, many of Rutherford’s students struggle with cutting back on screen time. But Rutherford does not blame students for the problem. He believes many of them are truly addicted to their devices.

“As a society, we need to prioritize educating our youth and protecting our youth and allowing their brains and social skills and happiness to develop in a natural way without their phones,” he told KVOA.

Related: Twin Sisters Were Adopted by Different Families as Toddlers — Now They're Both Graduating as Valedictorians!

Rutherford told WSJ he is seeking out a job where he can feel more fulfilled, like at an online college-prep school or vocational program. He is also looking forward to new horizons, but hurts for the kids he is leaving behind.

“Part of me feels like I’m abandoning these kids,” he explained. “I tell kids to do hard things all the time and now I’m leaving? But I decided I’m going to try something else that doesn’t completely consume me and drain me.”

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.