Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Caught In My Own Trap!

Yesterday I was trying to teach one of my high school classes about research methods. It was pretty clear that they weren't paying attention. They were fidgeting, whispering to each other, or openly chatting. No one was looking at me. I could just as well been speaking ancient Greek to them for all they were getting out of my lecture. I decided to change course.

First I shouted "Oy!" to get their attention (I do that often), and, after they quieted down a bit, I told them that I was going to give them some advice on how to succeed in college (they are all college-bound seniors).

I told them that, first of all, they should always sit as close to the front of the room as possible. This is for three reasons:

  1. You can see and hear better from the front.

  2. The professor is more likely to notice you and might be impressed by your attitude if you sit in the front.

  3. You won't be distracted by all the other students (particularly the ones you find attractive) if they are behind you and out of your line of sight.
My students didn't seem particularly impressed by this pearl of wisdom, so I went on to my next trick.

"Always keep your eyes on your professor," I told them, "and whenever he or she looks in your direction, nod your head slightly as if you understand and agree with whatever he or she is saying." I continued by telling them that it didn't really matter if they were listening or understanding what was being said or not. The important thing is that the professor would think they were listening, understanding, and--what is most important--agreeing with what he or she was saying. This, I explained, makes professors feel good about themselves, and makes them think the student who does it is very smart, and so will give him or her the benefit of the doubt when making grading decisions.

My students thought that this was all very amusing, and after a brief moment of comments and chuckles we got back into the lecture about research methods.

I was encouraged by the response I started to get. Everyone seemed to be paying attention! I was really surprised that my little "tips for college success" had made such a big difference in their attitudes. My ego puffed up a bit, and I began to get a bit dramatic as I extolled the relative virtues of the MLA and APA styles. My students seemed spellbound. Their eyes were fixed on me as I paced and gesticulated; their heads nodded in thoughtful agreement at each point I made...

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