Don’t Get Mad, Get Silly!

You’re already having a bad day. You couldn’t sleep last night,  and when you finally fell asleep, it seemed like your eyelids were only closed two minutes before the alarm rang. You got up after the third snooze, realized you didn’t have much time, rushed through getting ready for work, only to go outside and realize you had a flat tire. And now, groggy and covered in grease marks from your spare, you stand at the front of the classroom trying to deliver your well-crafted lesson when suddenly, in the back of the room, a cell phone rings, disrupting your train of thought.

What do you do?

Well, this happened to me, and instead of throwing a board marker at the perpetrator’s head, I stopped what I was doing, I closed my eyes, and…

I danced.

I danced until the ringing stopped. I danced a little bit longer so everyone could have a good laugh. And then I went on with the class.

You see, in most of these behavioral-correction situations, I just find it easier and kinder to be silly, to poke gentle fun at the situation rather than aim specific castigation at the student. 

Many Adult Education students come from troubled backgrounds or they have had unpleasant schooling experiences. By being silly instead of angry, kind instead of strict, we as teachers can demonstrate that their present educational environment is different, more positive, than previous instances. And just based on my own experience, students respond more to behavioral corrections delivered in a funny way rather than in a frightening one.

So when I hear a cell phone, I dance. When I hear someone speaking in his or her native language, I have a coughing fit, I fake a heart attack, or I start pretend crying. When students come to class late, I often lead the class in a hearty, “Helloooooo!” or  “Oooooh” or something of that nature to the students arriving late (Caveat: You need to have established a good relationship with your class for that last one).

The most important thing is that students get the point without being singled out for discipline. And it works. I find that one thing teachers notice when they visit my classes is the almost nonexistence of native language use, and I attribute that to the fact that students don’t want to see their teacher get physically ill.

But I know this might not be for everyone, so adapt it to your personality. Some teachers tell the student whose phone rings to bring cookies next class (without ever really meaning that they should). Whatever you do, make it memorable because that’s the point.

And I know this doesn’t apply to every disciplinary problem. If it’s a more serious problem, like a student answering his phone in class or constantly explaining things in her native language to partners, I take the students aside and talk to them.  I do find, however, that with my silly antics, this almost never happens.

Really, though, try being silly. Your students will appreciate it more than sternness, and you will feel better, too. When I danced that day, the students understood that though there was never going to be any serious punishment for breaking the rules, there would be a consequence. And through dancing, I brightened my own dark mood and became a better teacher.