Give ‘em What They Want; Give ‘em What They Need

Several days ago, I was talking with a teacher who was complaining about a student who had hidden his brand new eyeglasses. She told me that he had reported them lost, but he hadn’t left the room all morning. How lost could they be? Rather than having misplaced them, she believed them hidden. “He is just looking for attention,” this teacher informed me. 

At the end of the day the same teacher delivered the news, the glasses were miraculously found. They had been on top of the book case all day. It’s hard to prove, but she thought that the student knew they were there all along. When I asked if she made a big stink about the student finding them, the teacher told me that she thought that’s what the student wanted. 

I told the teacher that she should have stopped everything and celebrated the student’s amazing discovery. Write an ode to “glasses-finder of the year.” Take the student’s picture and mirror it on the screen. Etcetera. The teacher smiled politely, then returned to her room. I’m sure she thought that I was joking, but I was completely serious. 

This little story reminds me of my dog Jane. She pines for attention whenever I am around her. It can be annoying. I’ll be walking through the kitchen, and she will flop down in my way, obstructing my path. She pushes her wet nose into my hand anytime it is within reach. While I wash dishes she is pawing at my leg. And, don’t even get me started on the whining! The thing is, it feels like there is no limit to the amount of attention that Jane needs. If I stop and pet her, she just pleads for more! My wife and I joke about Jane having a bottomless love tank. 

The thing is, I’ve done experiments to see whether there is a limit to the amount of attention that Jane needs. I found that it actually is possible to satisfy Jane’s affection quota. It just takes some patience and sacrifice. One day, I sat down on the floor, after Jane solicited attention. I pet her face and rubbed her belly. She squirmed her 5o pound body onto my lap. She rolled around on my legs and tried to lick my face over and over. Not a fan of face lickings, I redirected her to simply accept my pettings. After a while, Jane got off my lap and wandered off. I was in awe. Wow, Jane’s love tank does have a bottom. I’ve done this affection dump several more times since then, with the same result. 

Jane does not pester me any less than she used to, but she also doesn’t pester me more. I don’t always have the time to lavish attention on her. I think that it was helpful to me, that I found out Jane can have her affection quota satisfied. Her solicitations used to be a source of annoyance and even guilt. 

I had a professor in college suggest that when a student walks into class late, rather than ignoring it, you could draw attention to it. Half the class’s attention is lost to the entering student, anyway. Just welcome them to class, and you will maintain the authority of the person who is in charge. I practice this all of the time. I also use the opportunity to summarize what I have been teaching for the tardy pupil as well as anyone whose attention had faltered before the disturbance. 

Back to our friend with the missing glasses; Who is to say that providing a platform for attention will completely cure a need and fix all future solicitations for public recognition? Like Jane, they will probably seek attention again almost immediately. But, fighting it is like patching up a broken dike with chewing gum. That dam is going to burst. You could redirect the water before it drowns the whole town! 

And, what if the student just found out that he needs glasses? Maybe he is dealing with something deeper than just a need for attention. Perhaps he has recently been teased about his glasses. What if his parents have been giving him a hard time about wearing them, and it is a source of conflict? The missing glasses could very well be bigger than just attention-seeking.

We all have students who crave attention a little more than others. Don’t stiff arm the solicitations. Redirect them, so that the student gets what they need, and the class can stay on task. “You can’t find your glasses? Hmmm… This sounds like a story I recently read… This might require some problem-solving, just like our math work from this morning… Can you remind me what they look like? Use as many adjectives/details as possible. If you were your glasses, where would you wander off? Walk me through all that has happened since you last had them on your face. Use sequence words like first, then, next, before that, after that, etc…” And, etcetera!

How do you handle incessant attention-seeking? What would you have done with our eyeglasses mis-placer?

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Matt Weimann

Classy to the core, I teach the whole #3rdGrade child @EPSDWillowLane. I have eclectic tastes with interests in chess, cuisine, art, good literature, strong coffee and other drinks, jazz, and fashion... Mostly bowties;)

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