After all your students are seated in their assigned seats, and you’ve gone around checking their names, return to the front of the classroom, standing quietly for a moment until you have the attention of each student. This is your first test. If you begin class while some are still talking or distracted, you will teach them that you will tolerate inattentiveness; and it will get worse as the days go by. You don’t have their attention until every pair of eyes is on you and there is total silence. Hold that silence for six or eight seconds while you look from student to student before you begin.
If two or three are still talking when you are trying to get started, simply stare (see below) directly at them until they stop. The moment they see you, look away without appearing to be annoyed in the least. If they don’t seem to notice your stare, you might simply say, “excuse me.” The point is that from the first moment you want to set your standards through the use of leadership, not power. Young, middle school teenagers sense that they are taking the first steps to becoming adults. To scold or threaten them is demeaning, and they will resent it – especially on the first day when they are extremely sensitive. They deserve to be treated with respect, and they will return that respect.
The Non-Judgmental Stare
When you stare at a teenage student simply because he’s not paying attention to you, be careful not to convey any sign of displeasure. You are simply requesting their attention, in the same fashion as you might with a group of adults to whom you are speaking. This stare is the most subtle form of discipline. Its value is in showing your kids that you will not shrink from correcting them. It is the most positive form of correction in that it shows no displeasure nor does it involve punishment. If you consistently apply the non-judgmental stare in the first instant it’s needed (yes, immediately), you will rarely have to go beyond.
Your students must feel they are being treated with respect. Your demeanor should be businesslike. They should sense that you are competent, perfectly organized and about to embark of the important business of educating young adults. It must be obvious to all that you take your responsibility seriously. You must exude the confidence all leaders have in their purpose.