David Semitekol

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Gaining your student's attention

What makes a poor teacher without regards to the subject matter? A poor teacher is one who shows up late to class or even just on time. They do not seem to be ready for the class, or they do not have a plan or itinerary. The same is true with business meetings. Ever attend a meeting where there is no itinerary? The meeting is conducted haphazardly and never seems to have direction or reach its goals. Another issue is the teacher making excuses for poor or missing equipment. This falls back to the teacher not being properly prepared for class. All of this places a negative cloud over the teacher’s head and places doubt in the students. Your students must trust you and believe that you are the leading authority on the subject. This boils down to exuding and displaying confidence. They must respect you and this respect will never be achieved through one of the aforementioned examples. Always remember that the teacher is the beacon of light in a dense cloud of fog. If your light doesn’t work properly or know where to shine, your students will remain lost in a sea of confusion.

Now in the classroom you must make sure that your students are actively listening. You can quickly lose your audience as they just sit there and nod their heads in compliance or direct their attention elsewhere. If you have a class that is comfortable with each other you can easily achieve an active audience. You will find and should encourage your students to ask questions, work on problems, and fail at problems. This will keep them interested and actively listening which will increase their ability to understand the material, thus learning it. When you notice your students drifting it is then that you must interact with them, do not simply continue on with your lecture. What is the point in getting through the material on time if your students don’t understand it? Teaching is not a production line where you build things, it is a garden where you grow things, and that takes time.

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    Feb 2 2012: It also depends on the age at which you are teaching. I have spent time in grades 1-6, with a majority of my time being spent with 4th-6th grades. However, I am also a college student, I tend to be a people watcher and often find myself noticing when people are not paying attention in my college courses. It is much more rare from the younger kids to become distracted for the duration college students do. It is also much easier to redirect younger children versus older college students. I agree to an extent that simply being the teacher involves some level of respect, but I want my students to respect me as the person I am, not because I am their educator. If one conveys this message from the very beginning, I feel it is much easier to hold students attention. There are also tons of class management techniques that can be used such as proximity control or using the students name in the context of whatever your teaching!
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      Feb 2 2012: "I want my students to respect me as the person I am, not because I am their educator"

      Hi Victor.....I have found that when educators respect the students, one of the best ways is by addressing them by name, and also interacting with them, then naturally the students respect the educator.

      I have found that having a good raport with my students and their parents have allowed me to gain their respect.

      They know that I am not only their teacher, but I can be their friend in a time of need. I also instill the spirit of cooperation in the class, so the students rely on each other, and not compete with each other. This is highly important in order to have a great year of learning....especially in the elementary school.

      I enjoyed reading your reflections.....

      I will share one about class management:

      After teaching for over a decade, I found myself interviewing for a new teaching position. The administrator asked me: "so, what class management technique do you use to keep the kids under control?" I have always found that question irritating. My reply is always the same.....None.......I keep the kids so busy working and interacting with me, they do not have time to misbehave. The administrator usually laughs at my reply..... And soon enough, after visiting my classroom, they discover this to be true.
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        Feb 2 2012: Mary I appreciate your kind words and advice.
        One of the best tips for classroom management that I have received is always have an open door policy. The way a professor put goes like this, "Come to my office, if I am there come in and we'll talk. If I am not there, then be somewhere else." During my student teaching I would always try my best to stay in our room during lunch, I offered students the choice to come hangout during lunch if they ever wanted too. By the time I was done with student teaching I almost had an entire class eating lunch with me. Needless to say, all of us were quite sad when it was time for me to move on!!
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          Feb 3 2012: Great Victor.....most dedicated teachers I know eat with their students, be it the school cafeteria, or the classroom.

          Be Well!!!!
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      Feb 2 2012: Hi Victor,

      Excellent point about using their names in the classroom setting. This should definitely help to keep their attention and maintain an active learning environment.

      I found it very interesting that your younger students maintain a higher level of concentration than most college students. This is the difficulty that we face in a college setting. They are here to learn and understand the material as it is extremely important to them in the years to come.

      One thing that I am starting to understand is the usefulness of the material from one class to another. I wonder if at times students lose their attention span because they don't think that a particular class applies to them.
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        Feb 3 2012: When I was in college, I found that I needed to be an active listener to get the professor to know me as a person.

        All too often, college professors do not take the initiative to get to know the students. Sometimes it is because the class size is huge.

        The squeeky wheel always gets the oil......I was always the squeeky wheel in my college classes....I wanted to get my money's worth. It certainly paid off, in my opinion. And I made some very good friends.
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          Feb 3 2012: Absolutly, getting to know your teacher is half the experience of the college setting and increases your learning potential. While my classes are never more than 35 students, I pride myself on having a relationship will all of my professors. At times much more is learned during casual conversation after class. Additionally when the teacher learns who their students are they can improve their delivery of the material and customize it for the students in the class.
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    Feb 2 2012: In my experience, at least in higher ed, the best teachers are the ones that say you don't have to be here. I don't take attendance. And every student is present at every class.
    If I have a syllabus and a book, I can pass a class. Teacher does not matter. But if I attend lecture, that means it's worth my time.
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      Feb 3 2012: Hi Ms. Taylor. I'm still defending the possibility of stupid questions. What is the opposite of "stupid"? Let's say it is "smart", OK? So, are all questions ever asked, now being asked, and that ever will be asked smart questions? How can that be? If not all questions are smart, then some must be stupid. Is it smart to believe there are no stupid questions? Or, is it stupid to believe there are stupid questions? The Law of Non-Contradiction says it can't be both. Where is the smart money on this issue?
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        Feb 3 2012: Ed, in this discussion we are inside a classroom environment. Why do the questions have to be dumb or smart? Can't they be other things also?

        For example: an untimely question, an out of context question, a by-the-way-now-that-we're-talking-about-that-subject question, an out of curiosity question, a that raises another question question, an I wasn't paying attention because I was daydreaming and so now I want to know question, an out of the blue question, and so on.....?

        When teachers see all questions in a positive light inside a classroom environment it will allow the students to feel they are important, and that no question will be left unanswered, therefore promoting a wonderful learning environment.

        Now, outside of school, and dealing with adults......well, that is a totally different subject altogether.

        Personally, I get irritated by certaing kinds of questions....but I try to give others the benefit of the doubt.

        Be well Ed.
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          Feb 7 2012: Mary never got the email. Don't know what am doing wrong.
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        Feb 3 2012: Wait, I thought of a stupid question:

        "Are you going to cook, or do you want to go out to eat?"

        I will not disclose who asks me this out of respect. :)
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          Feb 3 2012: I fully agree with the the classroom technique of NEVER classifying a student's inquiry as stupid. I understand it is a self-esteem issue and it is not in your job description to introduce the kid to the concept of stupidity. Thanks for the example of a stupid question. Good job of concealing your source, by the way, My best to Mr. Munoz.
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        Feb 3 2012: I don't understand stupid vs. smart questions. I tend to group questions into good, better, and best. The absolutely best questions are the ones I don't have an answer for. I have to look them up or find out. But that's just me...
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          Feb 3 2012: Thanks Ms. Taylor. You say "toe-MAY- toe", I say "toe-MAH-toe". I say stupid/irrelevant/ smart, you say good/better/best. Let's call the whole thing off. PS Did you see Mary's example of a stupid question?
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          Feb 7 2012: Linda, I sent another one. It will show up in your personal email as mail from TED, but it will say that it is a personal email from me.

          Once you get it let me know by clicking reply, typing your comment and clicking send.
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        Feb 4 2012: Actually Mr. Long, I do say Toe-MAY-toe. Corn raised midwesterner that I am:) I did see Mary's question. It is somewhat interesting. So perhaps a stupid question would be one where you know the answer? Not sure if I agree because what if she actually wanted to cook or has something in the fridge she absolutely needed to use up before it went bad? I mean I usually prefer eating out but sometimes it is more bother. Traffic, parking, waiting.

        But the idea that a stupid question is one you know the answer to intrigues me...
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    Feb 3 2012: 6 word essays of what teachers are:

    Encouraging the discouraged to defy obstacles.
    KAREN M., Illinois

    Building confidence; Opening doors; Shaping futures.
    STEPHANIE C., Oklahoma

    Teachers hold the ladders students climb.
    REBECCA H., Pennsylvania

    Handing out keys to the world.
    ANN MARIE O., Michigan

    Stretching imaginations, expanding knowledge, multiplying opportunities.
    ADAM S., Arizona

    Changing the world by expecting excellence.
    AMANDA T., Illinois

    Teachers illuminate darkness to reveal possibilities.
    LINDSAY C., Massachusetts

    Planting the seed of I can.
    SINORA W., Illinois

    Destroy chains. Shape wings. Inspire flight.
    KATHLEEN C., Nevada

    I struggled; she never gave up.
    SCARLET W., Tennessee

    All thirty students raised their hand.
    WILLIAM S., Washington

    Spark interest. Ignite curiosity. Fuel dreams.
    JACKIE K., Texas

    Sees a star before it's discovered.
    GISELA V., New Jersey

    Selflessly dedicated to someone else's success.
    AMANDA W., Nevada

    Believes I'm a superhero in disguise.
    MARGARET Z., Minnesota

    Challenge limitations. Raise expectations. Inspire achievement.
    KARA J., Colorado

    Transforms barred windows into open doors.
    BECCA W., Nevada

    Instill knowledge; invoke passion; inspire greatness.
    VISHAK V., California

    She said I can be anything.
    YUJI N., New Jersey

    Holds all students accountable to greatness.
    MARY T., California

    That all my students surpass me.
    HARVILLE H., New York

    Point out the stars. Provide rockets.
    ADAM L., Illinois

    Teachers inspire dreamers to become doers.
    JUDY S., Pennsylvania

    Dedication, patience and never ending encouragement.
    MERY M., Florida

    Open books, open minds, open doors.
    NANCY M., Arizona

    Molds 'I can't...' into 'I did!'
    KATHRYN B., Pennsylvania

    Watch them soar, then demand more.
    PANCHO S., Oregon

    I remember her fifty years later.
    CULLEN A., Indiana

    They doubted, you believed, I succeeded.
    PHILLIP J., Wisconsin

    Spark wonder. Challenge thinking. Dismantle myths.
    VALERIE V., Pennsylvania
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      Feb 3 2012: Here's another:

      "Never leaves a single question unanswered"
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        Feb 3 2012: "Creates a safe, nurturing, differentiated, environment, everyday "
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          Feb 3 2012: OK Victor, I counted seven words....it's supposed to be six.

          Do we need to give you a remedial class on counting? LOL

          Loved your word choice though. :)
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    Feb 2 2012: this is from a high school students perspective, The best teachers are the personal ones. I dont somuch like the teachers who just consentraid on work over and over. They need to be funny at times. Make work Fun, and look at it from a teenager's perspective and think well theyre not enjoying this and look a little bored, how can i make it funner and still get them to learn?
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      Feb 3 2012: Great point Tatelyn......hopefully you have had teachers like that.
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    Feb 2 2012: Quote: "You will find and should encourage your students to ask questions, work on problems, and fail at problems."

    I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. An interactive classroom is the best classroom. Everyone engaging in the learning process is essential to gain the student's attention.

    I remember asking a Math teacher once, do you send kids to be board to work out problems?

    Reply: Oh no, boys are better at Math than girls, so the girls would be embarassed.

    What do you say to someone like that???

    "Teachers educate the flowers in the garden of life"

    Reality: Sadly, today, many school systems dictate what teachers should teach, how and when. So it leaves little room for individualized instruction. Teaching has sadly become a production line in many school systems.

    Great Idea though!!
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      Feb 3 2012: I am a big fan of challenging students to the point where they may feel some stress. We all know that the real world is a tough unforgiving place. Many students, however, may not realize or experience this until something catastrophic happens. This is the wrong time for a person be it a child or young adult to have to experience a stressful situation. By creating assignments that are challenging or by holding high reasonable standards (which will force good habits) you can put some stress on students. However, you must exercise caution when doing so, because this could backfire. Teachers need to be able to mentor and guide students through stressful situations to help them build self confidence, have the ability to remain poised, and give them the a strong mindset that they are able to succeed when times are stressful. Being a teacher is much more than teaching curriculum from a text book, especially when we have to the power to dramatically influence young minds!!!
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        Feb 3 2012: Quote: "Being a teacher is much more than teaching curriculum from a text book"

        I definitely agree: "Effective teaching is a work of heart"
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    Feb 3 2012: David, so you are a college student or teacher?

    And you want us to tell you how to get the students' attention in a college class?

    I am asking you because the age of the students is very important.
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    Feb 3 2012: Thank you everyone for the comments, some of them have been very helpful.

    I'd like to try to focus the conversation back around to the teacher and creating an active listening enviroment for the students. This is accomplished through the teacher more than through the students.

    When we achieve an active student audience they will have a better understanding of the material and begin to think about the material themselves. Understanding the why is sometimes more important than understanding the how.

    College is the time and opportunity for a deeper level of thinking and thought, one that is impossible if the teacher just walks into a classroom, delivers a lecture and assumes that that is good enough.
  • Feb 1 2012: Hey, I am currently a collage student and I gave a lot of thought to this topic myself.
    I had great teachers as well as terrible ones.

    Anyhow, I think the best teachers are the ones that you have a personal friendly atmosphere with. The one who you know is ok to joke around with and one that you know would support you even if you ask stupid questions.
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      Feb 2 2012: Quote: "one that you know would support you even if you ask stupid questions."

      There is no such thing as a stupid question. Just stupid answers.....Dedicated teachers know this.
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        Feb 2 2012: Mary, I think I may have found a stupid question. . . "Why does Donald Duck wear a towel after his shower but wears nothing when going out in public?" What do you think? Is that a stupid question?
        I'm not being totally sarcastic, or disrespectful to the conversation. Its just that I think there really are stupid questions. I don't believe there is no such thing as a stupid question.
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          Feb 3 2012: As en educator Ed I have long discovered that every question asked by a student needs to be answered. It is a way of respecting the student's right to learn.

          If after watching cartoons of Donald Duck in class, a child is observant enough to notice the detail of him wearing a towel after a shower and then proceeding to wear nothing afterwards, then that child is very observant.

          If confronted with that particular question from a young child, I would first congratulate the child on his observation, then proceed to answer it.......and, "I don't know" is a wonderful answer when one really doesn't know. It's ok for teachers to answer a question with I don't know.....or I've asked myself that question a dozen times......especially if the question has nothing to do with academics, and it's just nickel knowledge.

          If the question is tongue-in-cheek, and you can usually tell when questions are of this kind, especially from older students, then a teacher could always say: "Are you being silly, smart alecky, or are you sincere?" And there is the option of answering questions in private....this way you can correct a child's attitude towards question asking if need be.

          I honestly, and deeply feel, that in a classroom environment, there is no such thing as a dumb question. Every question reveals something about the person asking it.

          By the way....you used a double negative in your last sentence; it should read: I don't believe there is any such thing....." (couldn't help myself Ed)

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          Feb 3 2012: Mr. Long
          I agree with Mary. I remember when my kids were young and they would play the why game. I would always answer until eventually they stopped asking. Why is the sky blue? Because the refraction of light through water...
          And in the case of your question. Because the animator is either placing the character within the story or setting up a joke. The reason he wears nothing out in public is because it is too difficult and expensive to animate a duck with clothes.
          The techniques of animation... ;)
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        Feb 2 2012: I agree with you Mary to a point. There are no stupid questions but some clearly are out of context or from a student who just wasn't paying attention the last five minutes :)

        At times though it is nice to hear any type of question, especially after dead silence. What ever gets the kids attention, this leads to active listening which should eventually lead to learning the material.
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          Feb 3 2012: Questions that are out of context allows a teacher to have insight to what is going on in a child's head.......this is a teachable moment!!!

          And if it is more than one student asking the dumb questions, then the teacher is failing to fully get his point across and should change strategies. It is a win/win situation.

          The exception of course, would be the problematic child, that looks for attention with negative behavior..........that is a totally different conversation. Kids who yell out questions that are totally off topic continuously need to be addressed using proper classroom management techniques.

          Great topic of conversation David.
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        Feb 3 2012: I yield to your maturity and obvious skill as a classroom manager. My remarks were sophomoric and inappropriate. I apologize. However, I defend the structure of my closing sentence against the charge of illegal use of a double negative. I stated that I do NOT believe the statement which claims there are NO stupid questions. That is two negatives in the same sentence but ithe second negative (no) is a quote of another statement. Am I correct? Thank you Mary.
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          Feb 3 2012: Why thanks ED.....I am honored with your kind words of recognition.

          And, you are very much correct about your double negative. Due to a lack of quotation marks, I did not catch that you were quoting me. I stand corrected.

          Have a fabulous Friday Ed!!!!