We’re all guilty of dipping into a daydream about what we’re having for dinner or having a catch up with your work bestie before a meeting. You can only imagine what it’s like for thirty-something students in one room. When I first started teaching my head of department told me about the art of listening:
“Listening is concentrating on what is being said to you, not trying to figure out what to say back. It’s not the same as hearing.”
I put that on a slide and displayed it for every one of my classes to see. A hushed chorus of wow circulated the room and they never interrupted me again.
I’m kidding, that only happened when I was daydreaming during morning briefing.
I needed to add more tools to my belt. Here’s a few tricks of the trade I picked up along the way.
Use a service bell to gain their attention
It’s a bit quirky, but instead of talking to their friends about what went down at break time, they’re now wondering ‘where did she get that bell from?’ Just don’t leave it on your desk. It gets expensive and the echoing chimes through the corridors will haunt you until Christmas.
Use coloured clocks in your slides to outline noise level
Red for silence, orange for whisper, green for group discussion. A visual aid of your expectations for each task. If you routinely use this in every lesson, they’ll start to look out for it. You may have to point out the red and orange occasionally, but it stops you sounding like a broken record.
Countdown from three to gain attention
I learnt this from a colleague who Had. It. Down. ‘Silence in three… two… one…’ and you could hear a pin drop, or more likely a pencil. His voice went slower and deeper with every count and it worked. If you don’t like the idea of a bell – or a horn, but that adds way too much comedic value – try this one out.
Don’t shout, project with a deep voice
The higher the frequency, the more you sound like white noise. Keep it low and fill the space. Channel your inner Brian Blessed. Teachers can strain their vocal cords so much it can have long lasting effects that can even stop you from teaching. Protect those pipes and practice projection.
Make the most of your classroom
If you’re 5ft nothing and have been mistaken for a student before (yes that really did happen) then owning the room can be a pretty daunting task. Don’t make yourself small by staying behind the desk. It feels safe and looks like a great bunker, but it won’t make them listen to you. Own the space and move around. The classroom is your domain!
Use positive classroom expectations
At the start of every term lay out your expectations. Avoid using the word don’t. ‘Don’t shout out, don’t swing on your chair, don’t forget your reading book so you can borrow The Big Book of Dogs for the umpteenth time’. Rather than focusing on limitations, keep it simple and positive.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Choose your strategies and embed them into your classroom routine for every, single lesson. If you stop listening to your expectations, so will they. Even if they’re your good-as-gold-lovely-bunch, they’re like that for a reason. Stick to your structure and your post-Easter self will thank you.
Need more classroom tips? Check out the other classroom advice blogs available on Eteach.
About the author
After completing a BA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, Tammy worked as a Learning Support Assistant, with a focus on helping students develop their literacy skills. She then taught as an English teacher at an all-boys comprehensive school in Berkshire. Now she has turned her sights to a career in writing, with education at the heart of it.