Here's what I learned last week: Your classroom management is supposed to help students pay attention. If you distract the students even more, you're not doing it right. I figured this out myself.
Several weeks ago, I turned around to find that one of my students had plastered a silver gum wrapper on his teeth. This is apparently a fad akin to planking among the teen generation. I have no problem with my students looking as dorky as they please in class. I do have a problem when they distract each other, so I halted the lecture and said, "Jake, take the gum wrapper off your teeth."
Later, I shared my frustrations over the incident with my dad. "I just don't know what I'm going to do with this class," I said. "I swear, some days I feel like I'm teaching middle school."
Dad taught high school science for a number of years. He has a fair share of experience dealing with unruly classes. "Don't yell at them," he suggested. "Don't say, 'Stop chewing gum.' Get their attention back some way." His suggestion? "Hang a spoon on the end of their nose. When you have their attention back, you can go on with the lesson."
At home, I tried hanging a spoon from the end of my nose. Apparently I don't have a big enough nose. Cyrano de Bergerac I am not.
In fact, I find my attention-getting tricks to be pretty limited. I can't do magic tricks. I can't make funny faces. I can't tell jokes (Actually, that's not entirely true. I can tell jokes, just not ones that my students find funny. I never feel so old as when I tell a joke.)
There is one thing that I can do: I can do accents. I can drop my voice down till it's low and gravely like a man's. I can do a passable Southern accent. I can also do a German accent, and I could probably pull of a stereotypical Asian one.
So the next week, I pulled out the accent trick. My class succumbed to an inexplicable giggle fit, and I dropped my voice low like a man's. They all snapped to attention in surprise, giggled nervously, and we continued the lesson.
Yes! I thought. This really works.
On Thursday, one of my students got bubble gum on her face. Instantly, my students were like the dog in Up: Squirrel! Bubble gum! I'd lost their attention. Again.
So I put on blue felt cowboy hat from one of my students, pulled out the Southern accent, and started talking. I got their attention.
I got a lot, lot more. They stopped giggling, and they started laughing out loud, as in can't-breathe, leaning-over-the-desk, crying laughter.
They asked for another accent - this time, a Russian one.
They told me I was the only teacher to make the students laugh so hard.
Oops. Pretty sure I did not want that distinction.
In five minutes or so, we resumed the lesson on outlining. At the end, we reviewed what we'd learned, and they patiently repeated back to me the three things that go into an outline and the four characteristics of a good quotation. They repeated to me that the writing process is more about a circle than a straight line. So I suppose that despite my accents, they did learn something.
All's well that end's well.
Next time, I'm just going to learn how to hang a spoon from my nose.