No laughing matter

I’ve watched several interviews with famous stand-up comedians who reference a comedic habit of obsessing over that one person in the audience who won’t laugh. A comedian can be delivering an uproarious set and getting great laughs all around. But many comics will ignore 99% of the laughing crowd to focus on the 1% sitting stoically. And most admit that it’s not only a fruitless effort, but also one that ends up excluding the very people who were enjoying the show most.

Comedians might make this mistake often. But most teachers do not.

Of course, great teachers will obsess over that one student who’s struggling to learn. The best teachers even enjoy being doubted—it’s their chance to demonstrate how great teaching can open a student’s eyes and mind.

But a student who’s completely disengaged, who refuses to pay attention, who makes no effort to hide just how much they despise being in class? Most great teachers know that to make the comedian’s mistake of obsessing over that one student, of redirecting their classroom energy and focus in an attempt to bring that kid back to life, could mean ignoring those students who want to be there and are eager to learn. And that’s not a fair teacher-student trade.

Yes, your classroom performance is measured in large part by your grade. But the way you handle yourself in class each day is also a performance, one that your teacher will notice. Some students bring their best, most attuned, engaged selves to that performance. And other students miss that opportunity.

Which students do you think are more likely to get help when they need it?

Which students do you think are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt come grading time?

Which students do you think will ultimately earn stronger letters of recommendation?

Here’s a past post, Things teachers notice about you in class, to give you some idea of those visual cues teachers can’t help but notice, or ignore, depending on whether or not you choose to display them.

You’re giving a performance either way. Might as well give one that deserves attention.