Student Distractions Get in the Way of Learning

The lesson plan is ready and an accompanying Power Point is locked and loaded. Early morning beams of light stream through the windows and I’m ready for a brand new day of teaching in learning in Room 5116 in North Atlanta High School. The day’s lesson? It will be conjugating the Spanish verb tener. There are – to be sure – some eager faces before me and things seem promising enough. No doubt some academic excellence will be served up today, for sure. But no sooner do I get things started than the inevitable takes place.

“Can I go to the bathroom?” The request is baffling – even rattling. Nevertheless I keep my poise and nothing will get in the way of advancing our shared educational cause. “No, Alison. Before I can take any bathroom requests I need to get this lesson started. So, please. Sit. Down.”

Behind me the PowerPoint projects all manner of “tengo-tienes-tenemos” fun and a few illuminated faces begin absorbing the very essence of Castillian grammar. But – drat wouldn’t you know it? – there’s an annoying sound over yonder that disturbs the learning environment. Ho there! What gives? Drat! A student is sharpening his pencil. It seems to be him against dull lead and the leads seems to be winning. “Whhhhhhhr …. Whhhhhrrrr …. Whhhhhrrrrr ….”

Once he finally makes his way back to his seat – after a few unauthorized pencil jabs at a seated buddy (who shrieks in protest, of course) – my own game attempt continues and I begin my scintillating conjugating lesson anew. All children have been duly and loudly instructed to “abrin los libros de texto a la pagina ciento y uno” (turn your page to page 101) and a PowerPoint slide says as much behind me. But – wouldn’t you know it? – a voice barks out. “What page are we on?” I resist the urge for sarcasm – keep it professional! – and gently remind: “As I’ve said multiple times we’re on page 101.”

Okay: Now we’re in business! Lesson getting started and soon these impressionable young minds assembled before me will know the ins-and-outs of the tener verb, not to mention an able ability to distinguish between tengo and tenemos. Right? I mean: How easy it all will be to them – but wait! Over there! There’s a student ruckus of some sort. “Jimmy: What’s going on over there?” I ask with trepidation.  “Hey! I had to borrow a piece of paper.”

The distracting situations abound and even multiply. “I can’t find my textbook.” (Sigh.) “I left my binder in my last class, so can you let me go out to go get it?” (Groan.) “I don’t have a pencil.” (Arghhh!) “I’m checking out early. Did my mom send you that email?” (Urrrrp.) “Can I go see the counselor?” (Gulp.) And along with all of these disturbances, there’s an unending litany of bathroom-related emergencies.”I have to go! Can’t you see it’s an emergency?!”

In the midst of all of this, the verb tener – and all of its glorious grammatical nuances – is sadly forgotten. Teaching and learning excellence is not been completely routed but it’s certainly taking a breather in the first 10 minutes of class in Room 5116. Students! We love you – but don’t be distracted! And “No” – for the moment – you can’t go the bathroom!

Mr. Stenger is a journalism and Spanish teacher at North Atlanta, in addition to being the Warrior Wire advisor.