In 1992, a Lost Angeles County parking control officer came upon a brown El Dorado Cadillac illegally parked next to the curb on street-sweeping day.
The officer wrote out a ticket. Ignoring the man seated at the driver's wheel, the officer reached inside the open car window and placed the $30 citation on the dashboard.
The driver of the car made no excuses. No argument ensued - and with good reason. The driver of the car had been shot in the head ten to twelve hourse before but was sitting up, stiff as a board, slumped slightly forward with blood on his face. He was dead.
The officer, preoccupied with ticket-writing, was unaware of anything out of the ordinary. He got back in his car and drove away.
Sometimes we are so intent on the "ticket writing" of our daily routines that we never look into the eyes of our students and coworkers! We miss out!
Make eye contact.
As students enter the room, I try to look each child in the eye and speak. It is then that I can pick up on the fact that something may be wrong. I can also comment and compliment.
Through the book, The One Minute Manager we were taught to conduct "management by walking around" and spend time walking through the sales floor. We were to look for "one minute" opportunities to compliment and coach employees.
I like to apply this as I teach. It is through eye contact that I build relationships with my students. They feel important and validated. I am able to intervene and help when there is a problem.
Expect eye contact.
In Edventures, Trish Ruben says:
"Train students who are gathered for a lesson to look you in the eye. Keep searching your group to engage eye contact in a way that reaches all eyes. Comment and praise those who make eye contact! I usually send a lot of Eye Messages in a lesson , and often remind students that I see their eyes, but am judging their ears!"
Pick up on the out of ordinary.
Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, an expert jury selector, says in her book Reading People:
"... to read people effectively you must gather enough information about them to establish a consistent pattern."
Once you know the pattern of a student, pay attention. If they are never a discipline problem and come in belligerent -- something is wrong.
What could have been some of the worst discipline issues of my career turned into some of the most meaningful exchanges with students as I took them aside privately and ask them what is wrong. Parents divorcing, close family dying, a friend changing schools -- these are all things that can send kids over the edge!
I look them in the eye and ask them if they are OK. If I am the one who picks up on it, it is my job to express that I care and listen. I am here for a purpose. I don't just teach my subject, I teach life. Life is tough. The greatest joys of life are to have people who care for you when you're down. I want to be that teacher! This creates greater loyalty in my students and a willingness to go the extra mile when they are 100%.
Poor teachers push a wounded child over the edge as they "act out" their hurt and anger. Good teachers use this as an opportunity to reach a student and show them that they care about them as a person, not just as a mind to be taught.
Pick up on body language.
Unless I know that a child is sick or on pain medication, I NEVER tolerate sleeping. Interestingly enough, there are sometimes only slight differences in attentiveness and boredom as Dimitrius teaches in her book.
She relates attentiveness to a lion stalking her prey with her body motionless and eyes fixated on the prey. Conversely, people who are bored "usually distract themselves with physical activity." (Dimitrius 66) Twiddling, doodling, stretching, and attempting to do another task!
Moving towards the person who is "tuning out" usually helps. Asking them a question is effective also. Do I have students who get bored -- of course! Do I have to accept their "tuning out" -- NO! I can modulate my voice, vary my movements, have the class move around, vary the pace, and of course -- add variety! (Yesterday's blog!)
So, wake up from your "ticket writing" and look your students in the eye. Be attentive. You will be truly alive as you engage your students as learners and as human beings!