17 March 2011

Let Me Have Your Attention

When two Soldiers appeared in my high school math classroom last year, every student came to attention.

It was a reflex thing. When those two men strode in, upright, full of confidence, and perfectly dressed in Army Combat Uniforms, the kids were in awe.

The reason they were there had to do with a course I was teaching. It has been documented in this blog before, so it suffices to say that I was teaching my students about the Warrior Ethos and how the Army can teach them skills for life.

My fellow teachers said they would love to have those Soldiers in their classes. There's just something about that uniform and what people in the biz call, "military bearing."

It's also that important to get students' attention. Perhaps the most important thing.

So, outside of dressing up in a combat uniform, what can teachers do to gain their learners' attention?

In a high school classroom, teachers do things like ringing a bell, flicking the lights, and offering up nifty sayings. My favorite was "one, two, three-- eyes on me!" Students (yes, my eager high school students) would reply with "one, two-- eyes on you!"

They are gimmicks, sure. You need a gimmick sometimes. Isn't a uniform a gimmick?

"At ease" is a good way of announcing a senior NCO. Most Soldiers respond pretty well to that. It's the military version of, "one, two, three-- eyes on me."

The worst thing a presenter can do is yell louder than the students. In the long run, however, yelling rarely works, devolving into a competition of volume. A classroom of 30 students will usually win that one.

Soldiers do that all the time, though. Yelling is stupid. It betrays a lack of confidence and authority.

The epitome of authority is high rank, and those with rank who rely exclusively on it are no better than the yellers. All presenters, whether a teach giving one of 180 lessons, or a commander briefing her troops, should demand attention from her listeners based on genuine authority-- the authority that comes from having something valuable to share.

When two Soldiers show up in a public school classroom, they probably have something interesting to share.

Teachers should work just as hard to make their stuff interesting.

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