A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, October 10, 2008

Snoozing and losing

One of the decisions a teacher has to make in classroom management, especially at the middle school and high school level, has to do with students paying attention in class. Apparently, here is a news flash for some adults who are not classroom teachers: a teacher cannot MAKE a student pay attention.

We can have all the right moves. We can move around the room as we are instructing. We can use humor and interesting stories and metaphors, we can let students know that we will randomly call on them and that their ability to respond is a part of their grade. However, there are still going to be those who will tune out their teacher, no matter what. And unless you require students to keep their hands visible at all times, take a guess as to how many students are texting during class, no matter how hawk-eyed the teacher is.

Yesterday, I removed a phone from the possession of a student who I could tell was sending his thumbs flying over the keypad. When I asked for it, he claimed he was only checking the time (you do realize that kids today do not wear watches because their phones display the time, right?). My response? I pointed sweetly to the large clock displayed on the wall and raised an eyebrow. He at least had the grace to hang his head and hand over the phone. It was apparently an epidemic that day, because no fewer than six of my colleagues on my hallway also noted that they had to confiscate phones that afternoon. Maybe they were all texting each other.

My favorite story is the parent who, at parent conferences, claimed that her kid knew that education was priority one and that there was no excuse for her not paying attention, but who later admitted that she herself text-messaged her kid during the school day, sometimes several times. There went my eyebrow again in the face of such a blatant disconnect from reality. (By the way, phones are supposed to be turned off during the day according to district policy. Ha.)

Then there's the sleeping issue. I know many of my colleagues don't care if kids put their heads down in their classes, I guess thinking that at least the student can't be a behavior problem if he's asleep. I do not allow heads to be down, nor do I allow sleeping. If a student is sick, I send her to the nurse. Otherwise heads are up and eyelids are open. I think this policy not only greatly increases the chances of actually learning something, but I also frankly think it is disrespectful to the teacher to sleep in class. Now listen, I am one of the most tired people on the planet. I admit I don't get enough sleep, and I do get sleepy at my evening class. But I make myself uncomfortable enough (too cold, assume awkward position, avoid propping head on hand,etc.) to make sleeping very difficult. Kids need to realize that they can't stay up all night texting their friends and then not pay the consequences.

How do you handle sleeping and other distractions from learning?

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At 10/10/08, 9:21 AM, Blogger MommyProf said...

I teach college, and we have the same issues. I get to ask students to leave if they are texting or using the computers for non-class stuff during class. I do it because I have had some of the more distractible, adult ADHD kind of students have complained about how it is hard for them to pay attention when there is mouse clicking or typing going on around them.

I used to get bothered by the sleeping, but I let it go now. I figure they are only hurting themselves.

At 10/10/08, 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sleepers get one warning, then they lose their privilege to a chair and have to stand for the rest of class.

For cell phones, first of all, students aren't allowed to keep their backpacks at their desk, so this cuts down on hiding places. Also, our school has a great cell phone policy that is relatively well-enforced. The first time I have to take a cell phone, I turn it into the office, and they keep it until the end of the day. The second time, the office keeps it until a parent comes to pick it up. The third time, the office keeps it until the end of the year. I keep track on my own of where students are in the infraction process, and whenever I take a phone up to the office, I make sure to let them know which offense it is for the student.

At 10/10/08, 10:32 AM, Blogger Kristie Walker said...

I'm lucky, in a way, in that my middle school has a strict "phones stay in lockers" policy, which means that if we see them at all, we can take them. Having said that, I've historically only taken 1-2 a year from habitual offenders that give me attitude--otherwise I just tell them to put them in their lockers and glare a lot. I cut down on texting because I DO expect to see their hands, and I don't let them put anything in their desks.

Sleeping--when I see the first offense, I warn the class. After that, they have to sit on their desk (if they're already in the back) or sit on a desk at the back/side of the room. I make sure the desk isn't against the wall, and they can't rest their legs on a chair. If that's not working (or they're being disruptive), then they stand, and if that's not working, then it's a detention.

At 10/10/08, 11:58 AM, Blogger Coach Brown said...

I've started a new rule regarding cell phones and it has actually worked well. Cell phones that go off in class I will ignore as long as the student turns it to silent or turns it off. Kind of like a work place. Believe it or not, phones rarely go off. Students that I catch texting in class are given a referral for one day of in-school suspension (ICE). That is all stated in class policies. I've only had two so far this year. It's a combination of treating them like adults, then hammering down on childish behavior.
I don't allow sleeping in class. I'm also 6'2" and I'm loud as hell. That makes it fairly easy to attract attention. I simply move a lot, transition a lot, and a weary head gets a tap on the shoulder.
I'm finding that student humiliation isn't effective and creates a worse classroom environment for the future. I try my best to treat them more like adults and then take care of problems aggressively that impact that environment. As of now, it's working.

At 10/11/08, 3:07 PM, Blogger Lightly Seasoned said...

We don't take the cell phones anymore -- we had a couple of problems with them being stolen while in teacher possession. Our policy is if it is out, the child gets a detention. If it is out during a test, it's a detention and zero on the test.

Sleepers get two warnings (and usually a suggestion to walk to the water fountain and come back). On the third, I write them for pernicious narcolepsy. If they drool, they have to wipe down all the desks.

At 10/11/08, 11:18 PM, Blogger Duez said...

I always let a student that has their head down alone... unless it is a pattern. One of the reasons? I really don't want to hear about their breakup with their significant other... or that they are sick. That happens. But, if a student does this multiple times... then I will probably teach next to them for a while (I have a remote mouse if I am using the computer/projector).

I really don't have a problem with sleeping too often. I try to have 3 or even 4 different activities or changes of pace during a single 50 minute period. So that keeps them on their toes.

At 10/12/08, 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a stuffed animal in my classroom (a tiger that looks a lot like Calvin's Hobbes) that will snuggle up with any student who falls asleep in class. Yes, it embarrasses the sleeper a little when the other students giggle about it. Then we have a little meeting after class about what happened.

If it happens again, I call home. It usually doesn't happen again after that.

As for the distracted, I simply make up a question and call on whoever isn't focused. A HARD question. Sometimes it's one that's completely off-topic. One or two times is usally all it takes.

Phone use in class in our school means BIG trouble, so that hasn't been a problem in my classroom. Yet.

At 10/15/08, 8:44 AM, Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

In high school, there was a boy who sat through many of my classes with his head down on his desk, eyes closed, taking no notes, paying no (visible) attention.

Now and then, when nobody could answer a difficult question, he'd bolt upright, raise his hand, give the answer, and sink down again into his apparent coma. He was always right, so our teachers let him get away with it.

Years later, I learned from his friends in grad school that he did the same thing in seminar.

Today he's my husband, and a tenured professor. I asked him once if he lets his students get away with sleeping in class. "Only if they get the right answer when it counts" was the response.

At 3/2/09, 5:54 AM, Blogger sexy said...

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