Interrupting Cla…


I’m John Merrow. Welcome to Taking Note, my weekly

(interruption with announcement)

I’m sorry about that. I was saying “Welcome to Taking Note, my weekly education blog.” Oddly enough, the issue I want to talk about is classroom interruptions. I began my career as a teacher, and I used to hate it whenever the principal would come on the intercom with an announcement. Seemed as if it always came at an inconvenient time, just when I was getting the discussion rolling, or maybe when some shy kid had finally gotten up the courage to speak. Then, bam…

(interruption here)

Wasn’t that annoying? Of course it was, and I put that one in there deliberately. And it’s beyond annoying. It shows a fundamental disrespect for teachers and for teaching. I mean, suppose, just suppose you as the teacher were winding up some key point, driving home the way to solve that equation or understand that metaphor, right at the

(interruption here)

Oh, forget it. I asked a couple of superintendents I respect about interruptions. Jack Dale, the superintendent in Fairfax, Virginia, told me that he doesn’t have an official policy against interruptions but that they are discouraged. The expectation, he said, is that you don’t interrupt instruction. Michelle Rhee, the chancellor in Washington, DC, takes a similar line. “We tell principals to keep them to an absolute minimum,” she wrote in an e-mail.

I told her about a high school I was in recently where the principal interrupted classes 10 or 15 times during the few hours I was there. It’s a school, I told her, where only about 20% of kids score at a basic level or above. I said I was tempted to connect the dots between the principal’s disrespect for teaching and teachers and the low student achievement. Ms. Rhee’s immediate response? “Connect away.”

Let’s be clear. I am not saying that interruptions cause low achievement. I am saying, however, that they indicate a clear lack of respect for learning.

I’m pretty simple-minded about some things. If I see someone mistreating a pet, That’s all I really want to know about that person. If I go into a school where the principal thinks nothing about getting on the intercom a dozen or more times a day, that’s really all I need to know about that school’s leadership, and probably about that school.

So, in conclus….


Oh, shut up! This is John Merrow. Thanks for listening.

One thought on “Interrupting Cla…

  1. The interruptions you refer to are of course the ones that take place in the classroom where attention to learning is to take place. The larger problem associated with interruptions occur when the students are working on their learning activities outside the school. My very casual observations are that the cell phone is errupting in one or more modes, the loud music is of course present, and all too often the outside influences [family, friends, nodding off, etc.] are also interrupting.

    So, even if the teacher manages to identify the core knowledge that needs to be learned, manages to facilitate the the development of effective learning skills [assuming this is a priority], and manages to work with the students on the areas needing reinforcement – in the time periods available in class that are being interrupted, I am suspicious of the effectiveness of the students’ effort outside of class – presuming that they see a need to work on learning outside of class of course.

    Sorry to have to be so negative.


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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s