(Dis)Order in the Classroom

20 02 2010

When I was growing up, teachers ruled with an iron fist. A swift rap across the knuckles with a ruler was usually enough to get you back in line. And if that didn’t work, a trip to the Principal’s office for a swat across the back side did the trick.

Of course, things are a little different in college. Physical contact could get you fired (if not killed). Still, even back in the 80s, when I was yet in grad school at Indiana U, I could control my classrooms without resorting to extreme measures. Even with 250 people in the lecture hall. It’s all a matter of how you develop rapport with your audience. Connect with them, and they will remain riveted in rapt attention.

Which is why I laughed aloud when a colleague shared this story from Oklahoma University of a professor giving an object lesson in academic reprisal.

Apparently said professor had grown irritated over the number of students using laptops during his lectures. Not wanting to compete with technology, he staged a laptop destruction performance in front of the entire class, crashing a decoy laptop to the floor in a dramatic fit of rage. Oh yeah…and only after first dousing it with liquid nitrogen.

Now let me make this perfectly clear (using my best Richard M. Nixon voice). I am not opposed to students using technology in the classroom. I do not mind in the least a student using a laptop, or even text messaging during class. Heck, I am guilty of tweeting and facebooking during church (I swear I can multitask…really). As long as the student does not disturb his or her neighbors, then I have no problem with it. As the speaker and sage giver of knowledge in that classroom, it is my job to maintain order by sheer personality and charisma.

I know that my students live their lives with several tabs open at once, so how can I selfishly expect them to shut down to one? I can’t do it, and I’m not going to be so silly as to think I can expect you to do likewise. (OK…let me take your pulse. How many tabs do you have open right now? Yeah. Thought so.)

I also work with quite a few faculty members who would vehemently disagree with me on this one. So be it. I have a hunch that those of us who embrace technology the most are also willing to put up with the most. Don’t like technology? That means none of you had better be enjoying it.

I pride myself on being able to have control of my classroom, but it’t not because of fear or intimidation. I want to earn my respect. It’s also not a whole lot different from the prof who thinks he or she is going to gain student respect simply by wearing a business suit to class. I’ve been doing this job for a long time, and I have learned one very important thing: You gain student respect when students know that you care…and can sense that you care that you know.

Show me a professor who tries to control his class by using theatrics and drama, and I will show you a professor who is out of control. That guy should be fired.

Dr “And You Can Text Me On That” Gerlich



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