The Alpha Teacher
If you’re my contemporary you will recall Cheech and Chong’s hilarious rendition of Sister Mary Elephant. When the routine begins with the familiar sound of pandemonium in a classroom, a cacophony of student voices and small almost inaudible whisper of a female teacher saying, “Class” with absolutely no effect on the chattering students. The frustrated teacher repeats her whisper slightly louder, “class” with still no decipherable effect. Finally the teacher screeches, “Class” at an ear-splitting volume and the student fall silent. The teacher timidly whispers, “Thank you.” This routine is funny to most of us because we have all experienced these ineffective teachers. Unfortunately, those same techniques are still being employed. To earn the students’ respect a teacher must become the Alpha Dog by: first, behaving in a self-confident manner; second, creating a positive relationship with your students; and third, developing a routine or a structure in your classroom where students know what to expect. Becoming the Big Dog, the Alpha Dog, will make your career easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
The Dog Whisperer has effectively described how to be the pack leader which is exactly what a teacher must be to be effective. If the teacher demonstrates signs of passive behavior like Sister Mary Elephant, the students will ignore her. If the teacher becomes aggressive snapping, growling barking at students, the students will manipulate her to continually snap, bark and growl because everyone loves a good show. If the teacher decides to be “their buddy,” a new leader will emerge and it won’t be the teacher. How does a teacher emerge as the “top dog,” the Alpha in a pack of whining students? Watch The Dog Whisperer and notice what he suggests about carrying yourself upright and know when to look at students. Develop a “teacher look” by keeping a serious or stern face why you make direct eye contact with a student. Proximity is another powerful tool. Arrange your desks so you have access to all of your students. When a student needs “extra attention” move close to his desk, kneel down, moving your face directly into his and using a whisper explain what he is doing wrong, and redirect him. Sometimes it only takes a question: "What should you be doing right now?" Maybe he has no clue. Finally, call in the infantry, invite “Bart Simpson” to the teacher's desk, ask him to call his mother and explain to her what he was doing in your class. When he is finished, take the phone and thank her for her help in solving this issue. The rest of the class has just witnessed the teacher's power and are shaking in their proverbial boots hoping they don’t have to do it. The word will be out. “Don’t mess with Mrs. Jenkins. She will make you call your mother.” If this doesn’t straighten out Bart, it is bound to prevent some potential problems down the road.
Next, to be the Alpha Dog, the teacher has to be the dog responsible for the happiness of the pack. Stand in the hall between classes, greet each student using his/her name, compliment him/her, and chat with him/her about his/her outside life. This is the time to strengthen positive relationships with your students. If a student feels that the teacher likes him and care about him, he is less likely to misbehave in the classroom.
The most important time in your class is the first two minutes. Establish a routine or a starter, so all students know what to expect each day. Just like walking a dog every day creates a pattern that the dog enjoys and appreciates, the teacher needs to create a similar structure with her students. Don’t get the leashes out yet, but it is the same idea. When I was in 8th grade, Mr. Limb, our science teacher, walked into the room directly after the bell rang and slapped a yardstick on the desk. Although we knew it happened every day, we jumped to attention and the chatter stopped. That particular starter never worked for me. First, all of my desks are filled with students and the thought of inadvertently hitting one terrified me. Second, there seemed to be a shortage of yardsticks in my school. Maybe lots of teachers tried Mr. Limb’s tactic and broke them. Instead, I purchased a small xylophone with three notes on it. It sounded like the old NBC intro-music. The notes are high and piercing. Students covered their young ears, but don’t worry it never affected my old ears at all. Then, I would say “It’s your favorite time of day, Silent Sustained Reading. Get your books out and I’ll put ten minutes on the clock.” I use an old oven clock to time them. Always start the class on a positive note and it will set the atmosphere for the rest of the period. School should be something students look forward to just like the dog looks forward to his daily walk. Within a month, students are asking if they can play the three notes on the xylophone, or put the ten minutes on the clock. What is especially satisfying is that they all begin finishing my line in unison. On days, we don’t get to have “Our favorite time of day,” they complain. Routines are important. How do you think the army turns restless, smart-mouthed teens into “a fighting-machine.”
So don't be a teacher like Sister Mary Elephant who cannot control her class and don’t give them a writing assignment about why they should behave appropriately. First, they are having too much fun destroying their teacher's mind and second, the English Department is trying to convince them that writing is fun. Instead watch The Dog Whisperer and learn how to be the Alpha-Teacher.