Classroom Energy

I received an important reminder some weeks ago regarding the need to regulate the social energy in a classroom.

In my own room, I set the level on the first day of school.  Cues can be friendly and still be effective.  A student calls out a question or comment.  I reply with, “You feeling all right?  What would make you call out?  We raise our hands around here.”

I also set expectations for low energy: “When we celebrate an achievement or applaud someone, it’s always golf claps.  Now let’s hear you do them.”

If something funny transpires, and someone laughs more than is due: “Wait a minute!  Hold everything!  Are you telling me you don’t want funny things to happen in here?”

Then, since there can only be one class clown, I take on the role myself.  And I can be truly obnoxious.

“Mr. Fornale, can I go to the bathroom?”

“I hope so!” I reply.  “You would need serious medical treatment if you couldn’t!”

“May I go to the bathroom?”

“Not in here!  That’s disgusting!”

Of course the inconvenience I heap on them regarding this sort of request also minimizes requests of false pretense.

Then, when I administer a quiz, I really mess with them.  After reciting instructions, I will offer a monologue like the following:

“But I’ll stop talking now.  I know you want to get started.  The last thing you need to hear is me droning on while you are trying to concentrate. (Pause)  So I’m just going to stand here in silence. (Pause)  I’m definitely not going to talk. (Longer pause)  Because if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s to shut up. (Pause–with irritated looks from students)  Yep, just going to stand here and shut my yap. (Pause–with students putting their heads in their hands in frustration)  Just going to shut up and meditate. (Long pause) Om…mani padme…Om…

At this point, several students are piercing me with their angry glares.  The rest offer a resigned smile.

Then I stand silent for about thirty seconds–and then I do the loudest fake sneeze you have ever heard.

And students flinch and put their hands on their hearts.  They laugh nervously but not uproariously.

That was the funniest thing that has happened yet this year, it has happened at their expense, and they want more things like that to happen.

And they quickly resume their low baseline energy.

I have dozens of gags such as this.  Every time I wind students up from that low-level baseline energy, they enjoy the moment and almost immediately settle back down.

And every time they resume the low baseline on their own, they reinforce an essential classroom expectation.

Sometimes I forget how long it takes to learn my overall strategy–particularly when no one teaches it in teacher preparation courses or in classroom management workshops.  I crafted it on my own out of necessity and determination, through lots of trial–and lots of error.

So when I entered the classroom of a young new teacher last month, two students who had been in my room the period before were at a much higher baseline than what would prevail in my own room. They responded to seeing me with a degree of enthusiasm that I could take as a compliment, but also in a manner disruptive to the lesson and disrespectful to the teacher trying to deliver it.

And these two students instantly found themselves in the hallway with me receiving a stern lecture and inconvenient consequences–all in consultation with the classroom teacher.

But I understood these students’ impulse, inappropriate as it was.  Students respond differently in varying contexts.

I am grateful for what I have learned to establish in my classroom.  I regret that it took me so long to create from scratch what I should have been taught before I began teaching.  

I wonder that classroom management and school culture receive at best token attention and discussion when the social element in our schools determines such a significant portion of our effectiveness.

And I chuckle to myself that such important and effective strategies in the classroom give me so much entertainment and satisfaction.

Photo credit: Tima Miroshichenko of Pexels

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

10 thoughts on “Classroom Energy

  1. Wonderful post and crucial content. I have always puzzled about this myself. Content can be easily learned by the teacher, but delivery and management take skill and finesse. Why are these aspects so sorely lacking in teacher training programs? I myself felt totally unequipped when I started. It’s into the frying pan for sure, unfortunately. This post was totally entertaining and extremely relevant. I can see why the students and parents love you the way they do. Bravo!

  2. This isn’t just “real teaching” like your blog title states, but FUN teaching, which cannot happen without the reiteration of and adherence to expectations. Love that you have dozens of gags to keep just the right amount of dissonance for the class to return to equilibrium! Oh, and you reminded me of a scene from the movie Avalon, where a teacher is trying to teach a child a grammar lesson on “may” and “can” re: asking to go to the bathroom… “You can go to the bathroom, but you may not”…waiting for the child to ask properly. It doesn’t end well, especially when the boy’s first-generation American grandfather shows up and speaks his piece about the situation. Priceless!

  3. Paul, I love that you bring fun and entertainment to your students. This is a great way to build relationship and show them that you care about poking a little fun while learning. I love your slice today!

  4. LOVE THIS!!! We have classrooms expectations as well, set from day 1 and we recite them (I teach K so we need LOTS of reminders). It is so important to have fun with your students and maintain classroom control. Awesome work!!!

  5. Love it, and you are so right. It takes a bit to train the students to your expectations and routines, but it is so, so worth it. You hold them in the palm of your hand and make every moment count. You become a real person and that makes you credible. Maybe YOU should teach classroom management at teacher training facilities!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s