The Art of Understatement

Right in the middle of my lesson, a student stood up and walked across the room, heading for the trash can. He was pretty much oblivious that I was still talking, so I had to do something to let him know he was a distraction.  I could’ve said, “Excuse me?  Where do you think you’re going?” or “I’m teaching here!  Go back to your seat!”

Instead, I stopped talking and gently cleared my throat.  He froze and stared at me, then sheepishly crept back to his seat.

I deal with a dozen or so incidents each day where I have to choose between making a big deal out of it or being more low key.  If I can handle something in a way that gets what I want while saving a student from embarrassment, that’s the direction I’ll take.

Some of my favorite understated reactions:

  • Raising my eyebrows and shrugging, in a silent “What the heck?” gesture
  • Chuckling and shaking my head
  • Saying, “No-no” in a light tone
  • Wagging my finger
  • Pointing to the student and then to where she should be
  • Saying “Sh” in a gentle tone
  • Using my fingers to pantomime sitting or walking
  • Making eye contact and giving a subtle shake of my head

Teens are self-conscious, insecure, and easily embarrassed.  Put them on the spot and/or make them uncomfortable, and you can expect defensiveness in return. Then you get to deal with what parents like to call “attitude.”

But if you can get the desired behavior, or change in behavior, without calling unwanted attention to your teen, you’ll not only get cooperation–you’ll get huge amounts of appreciation.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Sue,

    As a substitute in the public schools, I’ve found that kindness usually gets the best results. I do have to provide structure, particularly since I don’t see the students on a daily basis. A “May I get it quiet please?” is how I begin each class. Over half of my jobs are in the age group in which you specialize.

    “Teens are self-conscious, insecure, and easily embarrassed. Put them on the spot and/or make them uncomfortable, and you can expect defensiveness in return. Then you get to deal with what parents like to call ‘attitude.'”

    So true.

    Good post. Congratulations on the publication of your book. I don’t have it yet but it looks like a great read.

    God’s blessings….

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