A reader writes in to ask what I do about students who talk during my lectures. It’s a good question, as the problem seems to be getting worse the longer I teach. Whether I’m getting more boring (likely), my students are getting more unruly (perhaps), or the classroom culture is becoming more and more like the comments section of Matthew Yglesias’s blog (I doubt it, but maybe), I don’t really know.

As for the question, at the beginning of every quarter I talk to my students about my expectations of them, including my desire that they not talk during lecture. Honestly, I no longer care if they sleep, read, or surf the web. So long as they don’t keep other people in the class from listening to me and maybe learning (I can dream, right?), and so long as they’re somewhat respectful of me, we’re cool. Which is to say, I prefer that they not snore loudly while sleeping or make a big show of reading their friends’ facebook pages. Other than that, though, whatevs.

But a few years back, I singled out some backward-ball-cap-wearing kewl kidz for repeatedly talking and laughing during classes in the latter part of the term. They were recidivists, in other words, and should have known better. They had initially ignored my subtle looks and later my not-so-subtle glares. And they were clearly going to keep up their shenanigans until I smacked them down. So I did. I didn’t say anything too terribly harsh, something along the lines of, “Please stop talking during class. It’s incredibly hard for me to concentrate when you guys behave in this way.” And they stopped. For the rest of the term. Mission accomplished, right?

Well, I later wished that I had talked to them individually*, as the punishment — public humiliation — seemed to outstrip the crime. So since then, I’ve either tried to pull people aside after class or make an announcement, to the whole room, without looking at the offending parties, during my lecture: “You’ll recall that on the first day I said that I really can’t stand it when people talk during class. Please try to keep that in mind, okay.” And that seems to do the trick. But I’m open to new ideas, as the older I get, the more crowded my lawn seems to become.

* Of course I felt guilty. Because I always feel guilty. (Seriously, always. It never stops.) Put another way, one’s approach to classroom management is almost certainly going to vary depending on one’s personality. Not to mention one’s gender, which obviously has a huge impact on how one approaches these issues. So while I’m a guilt-ridden Jew, I’m also a relatively big** guy, which means that I probably have to deal with less of this crap than many other people out there do.

** Fine, fat. You’re so mean. This is supposed to be a safe space, you know.

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