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…
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
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.