"Shut Up" I yelled, but the only students to hear me were already quiet. The phrase "preaching to the choir" came to mind. I keep a personal alarm in my book bag for such rare occasions, but I'm reluctant to use it. It emits a high-pitched warbling sound that is about as irritating as a sound can be. I've has so many classes where it was like being in church that it was nice to see interaction, even if the interaction didn't involve me or the academic material. After all, these were college seniors looking forward to graduating in about 30 days.
"Sex is a great way to reduce stress," I remarked, seeing if that would catch anyone's attention. It didn't, except for the few quiet ones who smiled. The class had just heard a student presentation on stress and decision-making that included a self-assessment of stress levels. Most of the students had high stress levels, so my comment was neither out of context nor untrue, but possibly inappropriate. I made another comment about masturbation that also went unnoticed so I added, "I'll probably make that a test question."
The word "test" seems to get most students' attention if only for a brief period, as was the case this time. Concern for grades may not apply during lectures, but it does surface with regard to tests. I've no doubt that if I could give a test during every class period, there would be a lot more learning. There would also be a lot more hating of me which would lower my quality of life. I don't get paid enough to have a lower quality of life.
Theories about teaching are about as apropos to classes as theories about people are to individuals. They work well with some, but not so well with others. Classes have personalities, and there is enough variation that I try to use the contingency approach using whatever method best fits the situation. I pulled out my personal alarm.
The non-conventional and unexpected event is always more impressionable, and it applies to teaching. We remember best through association, and the more impressionable we can make the association, the better the memory. It's been over a half century since I was a kid, sitting at the dining room table during Sunday dinner, when my dad, who was a traveling salesman, related one of his many stories. He said, "This week I met a guy named O'Rork. How can you forget a name like that? It sounds like a fart in the bathtub." I had taken a lot of tub baths and knew what that sounded like. I never met O'Rork, but I've never forgotten his name.
The personal alarm is also very impressionable, and I cannot think of a situation where it would not be. In a classroom full of students it is even more impressionable. I instantly had their attention. I'm also fairly certain that it is the only thing that they will remember from that two-hour class.
At a college reunion (not mine) some years ago I was approached by woman who claimed that she had been a student of mine 15 years earlier. She had her husband in tow and, by way of introducing me, said, "This is the professor who told the Mexican hat joke." Her husband laughed and shook my hand. She didn't remember my name, and she didn't recall what course she had taken with me, but she did remember that joke. I'd forgotten both her and the joke, so her memory was better than mine.
The experience didn't exactly give me satisfaction for my years of teaching but, like O'Rork, I manage to live on in the memories of my students, and that's not so bad.