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I was invited to visit a class this past week to talk about my major.  Students in the class were new majors in the department, but they ranged in class rank from freshmen to seniors.  So some really knew what they were doing and others were not even sure what subdiscipline they were going to select as their focus.  It is a difficult class to teach -- I did it once over a decade ago, and it was a challenge.  So I sympathize with the prof, who is a very nice, relatively quiet and agreeable sort of guy.  

But when I walked into the class, halfway through (as someone else was talking for the first half of the class), students were very obviously not paying attention to the visiting speaker. Over half were texting on their phones, or had their computers open with facebook on the screens.  No matter how boring a lecturer might be, or how disinterested you are in the material, I would think you would have a responsibility to at least appear engaged, or barring that, to be polite, at least.  I was surprised and shocked this past week in this class at students' behaviour.  

And it wasn't just me; I had invited two students to come and talk about their experiences in work and academic aspects of the major in their time in the department.  I spoke with one of them the next day and asked her if it was typical of her other classes that students were so clearly not paying attention and were doing other things.  Her response after the seasonally-tinted swirlycue.  

She had been shocked coming in to the class at the lack of attention people were paying to the professor who was talking.  In fact her reaction was expressed more judgmentally than my own.  She asked a friend in the class if anyone had paid any attention to her presentation, and the friend had answered "probably not."  It is nice to hear that I was not the only one who had reacted negatively to the atmosphere in the class.  

I have done some guest lecturing in classes where faculty let students take notes on computers or don't ban the use of cell phones, but haven't noticed it as a distraction like this.  I asked another professor (one who does much more visiting other classes than I have) what her experience has been and she said that after a rather unpleasant experience with students when she guest lectured, and she told me that because of bad and rude students, she now tells faculty who ask her to visit their classes that she would have guidelines about student behavior in class while she lectures, and she is perfectly happy to say no if they find that an intrusion on the way they conduct their classes.  I haven't gone that far, and don't think I will, but it was such a surprise to me how the students acted that I might consider it.

There was an essay this past week on what one study suggested might be a cause or encourager of "uncivil behavior." The authors of the study suggested it was caused by a lack of respect which was promoted by TMI (sharing personal anecdotes) by the prof.  The comments were the most interesting part of the article, actually, and I would encourage you to take a look at them.  It didn't seem that the study was very controlled, but it was interesting, nonetheless.  

I talk with my students about appropriate classroom behavior, and what I expect in the time when I am talking, or when one of their colleagues is talking.  It involves paying attention, not doing other homework, not texting, etc.  I have students every once in a while tell me that they are expecting important phone calls, and I am fine with that, but ask them to sit toward the back, near the door, so they can take the call out into the hall when it comes.  I have been in those situations myself, too (I was at a conference and organization business meeting trying to schedule my cancer surgery last summer, and you better believe I took the required phone calls).  The trick is to be as discreet as possible, and certainly to avoid (as much as possible) disrupting the work and involvement of others in the class/meeting/etc.  

I don't know how this professor normally runs his classes, and this information for new majors class is something that is a bit of a smorgasbord at which students will be picking out what they think they need to help them in their program.  So there is at least implicit understanding that there will be a lot that isn't necessarily directly relevant to each individual.  However, how will you know what might be relevant if you don't pay attention?  You might hear about something that you didn't think would be important (such as "this is how I got X or Y internship") you would miss if you were only interested in the narrow definition of what you thought was directly related to your major and someone in another major was talking.  That is why it is useful to develop the habit of always being curious and trying to find relevance in anything you hear.  It is safer to assume you will get something from someone talking to the class (and perhaps be disappointed), than to assume you will not, and then miss that something because you never bothered to listen.  

That is why I ask my students to shut off their phones and computers when they come into my classroom.  I want them to develop the habit of paying attention in a lecture or discussion, and I hope that habit carries over to other things they will do.  If it doesn't it will not be because I didn't offer them the opportunity and encouragement to explore things they might not think would be interesting.  

Do you find that other people's classes look significantly different from your own?  Do their students seem more engaged or less engaged than your own do when you wander into their classrooms?  How often do you do guest lectures?  I look forward to your comments.  

(I will not be able to participate in real time with conversation, as I am at a conference on Saturday.  I won't be taking my computer, but will be taking notes in an old fashioned notebook, which is the way I learn better.  Less temptation to surf the web, at least.  I will join in the discussions when I have a chance.)

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 11:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  classroom management is its own course at some (5+ / 0-)

    graduate institutions, sadly. and they don't even come with whips(sic)  or chairs

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 12:20:53 PM PDT

    •  an answer for university/college classroom support (5+ / 0-)

      departments

      The Classroom Mobile Phone Jammer

       Cell phone signal blockers are an electronic gadget which can disrupt mobile phone signals temporarily. Earlier, it was only utilized by the law enforcement and military functionaries to either control or stop cellular communication during threatening conditions and disputes. Without doubt, now, mobile phones have entered more than millions of family units. According to the current survey, more than 95% students from 15 to 16 years old use mobile phone whereas the ratio amongst pupils above 17 years is 100%. At one point of time, mobiles phones enrich life. From another point of view, some fallout also comes along.  So, the classroom mobile phone jamming is moving at the creativity speed.

       These days, a lot of educational institutions complain that lots of students make calls, play games or send messages during lecture. This troubles the pattern of the teaching process. Still, most educators are unable to help in front of the rude and offensive use of mobiles in class. Luckily, the innovation of cellular blockers is supporting teachers in promoting class management. The classroom mobile phone jamming is gaining lot of popularity. The mobile phone signal blocking kit is an electronic gadget which blocks the signal transmission from the broadcasting station. The blockers cuts off the contact between sender and the receiver by sending signals at the similar frequency that mobile phone uses.

      Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

      by annieli on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 04:11:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My father told the story... (3+ / 0-)

      when he was a professor of Biochemistry at a medical school of publicly calling out a student who was reading a newspaper during his lecture. The student put away his paper, but then had to meet with my father in his office for a talking-to about whether he really wanted to be a doctor.

      Students need to learn everything (or at least be exposed to everything) presented in their discipline, including developing the ability to focus on something in which they are not interested.

      They need to respect their teachers with their attention (especially visiting lecturers -- it's a professional courtesy thing). They also need to learn to respect their fellow students who will be distracted by their non-attentive behavior.

      Since it seems to be moving toward a cultural norm to use smart phones during class, it needs to be made clear that the required protocol is to be no use during class, with consequences if the protocol is violated. Then follow through.

      I think if I was the guest lecturer I would have stopped my presentation and asked them to turn off their cell phones or leave -- and if they did not, leave myself.

      Most people don't anticipate facing such disrespect in a classroom, so often don't have a game-plan for how to deal with it.

      "When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?"--Eleanor Roosevelt

      by KJC MD on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 11:23:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is not my classroom (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nuclear winter solstice

        so I would not discipline other people's students.  It is like disciplining other people's kids.  But I am shocked when other people's kids are not polite in even a rudimentary way.

        •  except that sometimes it IS acceptable to apply (0+ / 0-)

          your standards to other people's kids or students, if they are being rude on your time. Number One, they have plenty of their own time for it unless, as stated before, it is an emergency. And Number Two, it's entirely possible that no one ever put their foot down about it before and the youngsters need to witness someone with discipline.

          It is starting early in the sense that parents are telling elementary school admin that they might need to reach their child during the day so the child must be allowed to have a cell phone, and the child grows up expecting that privilege. What ever happened to calling the office and giving the child a message if it's that important, and saving it for supper time if it isn't?

          As far as disciplining other people's children- are teachers no longer in loco parentis? It seems we give teachers all the aggravation and none of the authority these days.

          And I can personally remember at church removing an unsupervised unruly child from the sanctuary when all the folks were downstairs for coffee. He wouldn't stop the trouble he was making, so I physically removed him (he was about 6 years old) pulling him out by one arm.
              The kids looked at me with hatred and actually said, "You can't do that to me! You're not my Mom!"
              I got right down in his face and said very quietly but firmly, "Yeah, but I'm the only adult around here and that makes me in charge." Scared the poop out of the little guy who was otherwise allowed to mess around as much as he liked. He went running downstairs to Mom, who never really noticed anything had happened.
              Before anyone says 'I wouldn't want you to do that to my child,' let me suggest parents hold their little ones closer if they care.

          We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

          by nuclear winter solstice on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 07:45:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think this is significant (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          nuclear winter solstice

          It's become a cultural norm not to "discipline other people's kids" - aka call attention to disrespectful behavior and demand that it end. When I was a kid, any adult in my neighborhood was the same as a parent. If I was out of line at a store, any adult could call me out regardless if they knew me or not.

          It's the same in the classroom. If you are at the head of it, guest or not, it's your classroom. It's your responsibility to demand acceptable behavior of the students within. If you accept the behavior, you are teaching that such behavior is acceptable.

          When people talk about respect we often see that as a one way street that puts us in a powerless situation if respect is not given to us. However I strongly believe that respect is something that is both given and demanded in return. There has to be some level of expectation for acceptable behavior.

          If there is no expectation that respect will be given in return for your efforts, then the issue is one of lack of self respect. If I were to lecture to a room of people who were blatantly not paying attention, what does that say about my respect for myself? Why should I be respected if I don't respect myself enough as an adult and authority on the topic to demand children or young adults I'm speaking with pay attention to what I am sharing, if only politely?

          Teaching is more than one's subject. By accepting behavior that is openly disrespectful, one teaches those not paying attention that what they are doing is acceptable behavior. After all, it was no secret they weren't paying attention and you kept talking pretending you didn't notice. You didn't care, right?

          Imagination is more important than knowledge. Albert Einstein

          by michael in chicago on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 07:45:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  This is very troubling to hear, (9+ / 0-)

    but I appreciate the honest description. I used to teach high school, and guest speakers usually generated a high interest level, as much for the novelty as the subject.

    Since active engagement by students in a lesson is necessary for learning, I have to wonder why the surfers and texters are even in class. Sounds like it's a problem even with their regular teachers. In high school they are required to be in class, and will try to sneak those things. But in college? It begs the question- where are they learning?

  •  Rather depressing reading, that. (4+ / 0-)

    I make a point of stating that I struggled through some of the mathematics that I teach and beyond and that sometimes solving story problems is messy, with plenty of wrong starts.  I've even stated that the first semester that I don't learn something in teaching this course will be the last that I teach.  (The course is a numeracy course that samples many fields and is taken by students whose career plans do not require college algebra.)

    If the study is true (and I hope it's not), the best policy for me as an instructor is to behave as if I know everything now and that I was that kid who heard the lecture, did the homework and nothing more, and still aced everything.  Worse, perhaps the advice to act as if there is only one way to do problems -- even that found in a Pearson text -- is conducive to student learning and growth.  

    And maybe I should believe the students who, in reviews, state that I have a better head for research than for teaching...
     

    "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

    by Yamaneko2 on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 12:46:12 PM PDT

  •  Other than the respect one human should expect (0+ / 0-)

    from another, why do you think that you should be granted some special measure of "respect"?  Though this goes against the traditional perspective of what the student-teacher relationship is, the fundamental basis of that relationship has changed.  You, as the teacher, are seriously no more than some employee who has been hired to perform some service. The reality is that all of business culture (and society in fact) teaches that respect is not something that really enters the equation - what is really going on is a reflection of the basic power dynamics of employer - employee interactions. If this respect is important to you (you need to ask yourself why and what does respect really mean) then I suggest you should consider what have you done to earn it with those specific students. Seriously! There was a time when being a teacher was respected because the direct connection between what the teacher provided to (and sacrificed for)  the community was very apparent. For a variety of reasons, that connection has been obscured and with the resulting debt load that students are building, the view that the students are receiving a gift from the teacher - and partially thereby deserving of respect - has receded. I don't like it - I have taught for many years, but once I stopped denying that this was part of the current reality, it has made a number of things easier to deal with.

    Good Sense is Seldom Common

  •  I also (4+ / 0-)

    Fell for the professor in that class there's only so much he can't do without creating a student revolt that comes out on the students' course evaluations at the end of the semester. Schools have to address this issue at the institutional level. Also imagine how we as teachers feel in high schools when we spend more time enforcing cell phone rules than teaching and we end up being evaluated on the students' test scores.

    I take political action every day. I teach.

    by jbfunk on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 02:38:27 PM PDT

  •  I do not allow cell phones or open laptops in my (8+ / 0-)

    college classes.  I run small discussion-based seminars, and any kind of electronic device is a distraction from the group dynamic.  I'm torn about Kindles and Nooks, but allow them if the student uses it exactly as they would a hard copy of the novels I teach.  I do not guest lecture often in other faculty members' classrooms, so I do now know how distracted or impolite their students are. But I am guest teaching an AP English class at my son's high school in a month from now and will be very curious about the students' classroom demeanor.  I should add that I've never had a student complain about my "no electronics" policy, either on evaluations or in person.  But I make that policy clear to students even before the first day of classes, so if they object to it they don't have to take the course.

    Nothing amuses me more than the easy manner with which everybody settles the abundance of those who have a great deal less than themselves. --Jane Austen

    by feeny on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 03:22:44 PM PDT

  •  Yes! Definitely! I'm very, very clear about (7+ / 0-)

    my texting and in-class laptop use policy. VERY clear. From the first day. IF a student is texting OR their cell phone rings, they will be counted as "absent for the day." I also do NOT permit laptops in the class unless there is a disability-related reason for this. I also consider "side conversations during class" as "absences." I state that if any of these things happen in my class, then I will not interrupt the class to mention it -- I will simply note that the student was "absent."

    And lo and behold, while my colleagues gnash their teeth about tuned out students, I've never had any problem at all, to the point that I've never had to call a student out about cell phones, texting, laptop use, OR side talking. The worst I deal with is the occasional doodling and obviously tuned out student. But I notice that the vast majority of my students are totally tuned in. That's probably because I do that thing no one much does anymore, which is call on them.

    I think the problem isn't quite what the article describes and don't really see eye-to-eye with what's posited there, but I do think classrooms are oddly poised as student-centric or student-run; in my view, there's still something beneficial for college students about thinking of the teacher as someone who actually has something to share in terms of knowledge. I believe we've devalued our own knowledge at times in a way that is a pander for good course evaluations or tuned-in students. Some of the tune-out, in my view, also has to do with students who really aren't good college fits but are there due to economic terror or desperation in a crappy economy. I'd say about half of all students probably have zero desire to really attend these days, and if you ask them this, they'll often admit that mom and dad insisted/they're scared/couldn't find work without that degree. So that's a systemic problem leading to all of this.

    Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

    by mahakali overdrive on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 05:48:57 PM PDT

  •  Several years back, one of my nieces (3+ / 0-)

    visited to see a local university, which has a good reputation, along with being quite expensive (though she had full scholarship offer there - along with at around fifteen other schools). I dropped her off after a night spent at my house, as she was set up to spend the night in a dorm and then sit in on a few classes. I picked her up after the experience. She told me the girl in the dorm only wanted to watch t.v., and the students weren't paying attention, or were even slipping out when the teacher's back was turned. Other students told her the easiest classes to pass. She wondered why they were in school if they did not want to learn, and of course, chose another school.

    "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." Mohandas Gandhi

    by cv lurking gf on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 07:00:20 AM PDT

  •  I started college before the internet and finished (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman

    in 2011, so I've been a student in both types of classes.

        Long, long ago there were classes that we just didn't show up for, but if we got there, it was relatively quiet and people actually took notes in notebooks with pens. Sometimes we even were required to do so and even turn them in or at least show the notebook to the prof every once in awhile. Even doodling in the notebook was frowned upon, and I can remember professors asking whisperers if they wanted to share that for with the whole class or save it for later.

         Second time around I watched it go from the occasional smart-phone user looking up stuff to full-out face-booking and people playing games on their laptops even after being told not to bring such stuff to class. Yet I never saw anyone stop them if they started.

         I told more than one professor that I was offended by having to spend the first half of every new class going over what not to do (i.e. communicating with others, cheating, or plagiarizing). 'Scuse me, I said, I wasn't planning to do any of those- that would be "rude, crude, and socially unacceptable" as we used to say about people in the early '80s (not to mention just plain wrong...).

    But I grew up in the era where chewing gum could get you sent to the office, and in high school we wrote our notes in code because getting caught could be baaad.  
         So I think it's generational, along with the people who come to my desk at work then proceed to talk and text with their phones while I am trying to help them or move on to the next patron.

    We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

    by nuclear winter solstice on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 07:31:44 AM PDT

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