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Chatty Cathy, clip your string.

October 28, 2011, 11:28 am

I’m having an unusually difficult time this quarter convincing the students in one of my courses that I really do want them to be quiet while I teach. As always, I began the quarter by mentioning that I have very few pet peeves, but people who chat while I’m lecturing are near the top of that short list. I mean, people who kick kittens and/or puppies are far worse than incessant talkers. But I don’t encounter kitten- and puppy-kickers all that often, at least not while I teach, so they’re not a real-world pedagogical concern of mine.

That said, for some reason the initial no-talking PSA didn’t seem to take this go round, so I decided to mention it again. Adopting my very best insouciant manner (because I wanted to make sure that everybody understood that the talkers weren’t getting under my skin), I stopped class a couple of weeks ago and said, to nobody in particular (because I didn’t want to embarrass the talkers), “Hey, look, all of this talking is very distracting for me. And if my needs don’t concern you — and really, why would my needs matter to you, I’m only the one doing the grading — perhaps you could consider that you’re probably distracting the people sitting around you as well. So, please stop.” And then I started back in on the Puritans. Which was an odd thing to do, I’ll admit, because before the interruption I had been lecturing about cotton culture in the Chesapeake. See? All of the talking distracted me!

Well, I’m afraid that didn’t work either. Which meant that yesterday I stopped lecture suddenly, looked directly at the same group of people who have been chatting the quarter away, and said, without regard for their delicate sensibilities, “Enough. I’ve asked you before, and I meant it: please stop.” One member of this gang of recidivists then tried to stare me down, but I just smiled my Gore Vidal smile and looked away. Because I’m that cool. Well, fifteen minutes later they were talking again. No, seriously, they were.

I’m almost out of ideas at this point and thought I’d see if you can help. I suppose the next step is to ask this group of louts to see me after class. But I don’t really want to spend more of my time on this sort of classroom management. In part I feel that way because, really, this isn’t middle school. But it’s also so depressing to waste time on such stupid crap*.

So, what’s worked for you? Anything short of bringing a dart gun to class? Bear in mind that your answer will be recorded for posterity and that PhD candidates apparently read this blog. Which is to say, this is another opportunity for us to consider those things that don’t typically get taught in graduate school to aspiring scholars/teachers. Also bear in mind that, yes, I know these sorts of challenges are very often a much bigger problem for women. And I know, too, that the most appropriate and effective responses to such problems differ depending on the race, gender, age, and deportment of the professor in question. Still, I’m stumped and thought I’d see if you people can help me out.

Finally, yeah, don’t even get me started on all the texting and web-surfing that’s going on this quarter. I’ve mostly decided that the best thing to do about such practices is to ignore them. Except, of course, that I announced early in the quarter my “please don’t distract your neighbors with your gadgets” policy. Whether that works or not is anybody’s guess. I’m at the front of the room, fortunately, so I can’t see what’s displayed on the students’ screens.

* No, teaching about cotton culture in the Chesapeake and the Halfway Covenant is not “stupid crap”. You talked a lot in class during college, didn’t you?

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