Has this ever happened to you?
You’re chatting with a fellow teacher and out of the corner of your eye you notice one of your students rapidly approaching.
But instead of waiting for you to end your conversation, the student enters into your personal space and blurts out a question.
You’re likely taken aback by such behavior. Perhaps you get angry with the student or maybe even a little embarrassed in front of your colleague.
But here’s the thing.
If your students feel comfortable enough to interrupt you while you’re having an adult conversation, then chances are you’re being interrupted in your classroom as well.
Maybe your students leave their seats and approach you without permission. Maybe they call out in class without raising their hand. Maybe your lessons are too often a frustrating cycle of fits and starts.
Whatever the situation, interruptions are both a cause and a symptom of poor classroom management. And learning suffers greatly because of it.
Some teachers may tell you that interruptions and other similar impolite behaviors are societal or generational problems of which they can do little about.
You can most definitely do something about it, and while you’re at it increase the learning in your classroom tenfold.
It may sound strange, but it’s important to define for your students what interrupting is—because, believe it or not, more than a few won’t know. Give examples using the specific interrupting behaviors you’re seeing in your classroom.
Simply and directly explain why it’s wrong to interrupt, why it’s disruptive to learning, and why it isn’t allowed in your classroom. Knowing the why of your expectations will always result in better buy-in from students.
Role-play interrupting behaviors.
Sit in a student’s chair and play the part of an interrupting student. Choose a student volunteer to play you teaching a lesson. Run through a few scenarios, showing the absurdity of interrupting, calling out, and approaching the teacher without permission.
Note: If your students are laughing, then you know you’re doing it right.
Model what to do instead.
Now show your students the required alternatives to interrupting. Show them the ease of raising one’s hand, the politeness of waiting patiently for you, and how much more peaceful and conducive to learning it is without interruptions.
Reward those who do it right.
No, you’re not going to give out prizes to students who don’t interrupt. What you will do, however, is respond quickly to those who raise their hand and wait to be called on.
Note: This sends a clear message to students that raising your hand and waiting patiently is the fastest way to get noticed.
Don’t respond to those who interrupt.
If a student interrupts, calls out, or stands in front of you repeating your name, don’t respond. Because for every time you do you create an avalanche of more of the same behavior.
Enforce a consequence.
Instead of responding to interruptions, or even reminding students to raise their hand, look them in the eye and say, “You have a warning” or whatever consequence your classroom management plan calls for.
Interrupting Is Unfair
Interrupting is like cutting in line; it isn’t fair. Yet many teachers encourage such impolite and disruptive behavior by answering and responding to interruptions—which is the same as giving your stamp of approval.
This leaves the quiet, the shy, and the polite on the sidelines, while opening the floodgates to everyone else.
You often hear the complaint, “My students are so needy. They just crave my attention.”
No, they don’t.
What they crave and what they need is a way to ask a question or voice a concern without having to fight, scratch, or compete with their classmates.
So give them that way. Follow the guidelines above and give all your students equal access to you, and by extension, equal access to their education.
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