Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Teacher Look

A post about teaching social norms by Retired English Teacher reminded me about the "teacher look."
(not me!)
For me it is all in the cock of the right eyebrow, the slight degree of narrowing the left eye, and the proper amount of pursing of the lips.  I had it down long before I was teaching, because my younger brothers used to say, "Oh, no, she's giving us the eyebrow,"  when I was being displeased with their shenanigans as kids.  That look earned me those "smoker mouth" wrinkled lips without the smoking, but say what will, the teacher look is effective communication.

Now, when we were working, we got in the habit of taking a winter vacation to a warm spot--most often the Bahamas.  This involved a flight from Burlington to Pittsburgh to West Palm Beach to Marsh Harbour.  Since we travelled during school vacation, there were always lots of families with young children on at least the first leg.  While waiting for boarding, Mike got pretty good at picking out the exact crying infant or back-of-the- seat-kicking toddler would end up in the seat behind him--one of those fun games you make up to amuse yourself while waiting in an airport.

One time, a long stop over in Pittsburgh on the way home, I noticed two boys--maybe 12 and 14--running amok through the food court.  They were racing luggage carts up and down, screaming and laughing, knocking into furniture and people without any awareness, just generally giving the ADHD full tilt.  I said to Mike, "You know how you pick the infant most likely to sit behind you?  There's my worst nightmare right there."

Oh, sometimes dreams do come true.  The two brothers, a 15 year old sister, and their grandmother were not behind us, but filled in the seat next to us and the three across the aisle.  The grandmother had tried to separate the two boys by seating one on the aisle next to us and the other by the window opposite, but the window sitter screamed bloody murder and threatened to puke if he was not allowed to sit in the aisle seat next to his brother.  He wore the grandmother down pretty quickly and seats were rearranged.  Before the plane took off the two boys were going at it, using rolled up in flight magazines as swords slashing at each other.  Grandma's quiet "Now stop that"s were ignored.  When she got swiped in the eye with a paper sword she just sat there and cried.

Honestly, at one time, the pilot would have put them off the plane for their behavior, but it was obvious that while everyone around them was uncomfortable, no one was going to intervene.  The flight attendant was studiously ignoring the whole scene.  Clearly, it was time for teacher action.

I tapped the boy sitting next to me and informed him we would be switching seats.  He was now between Mike and I.  I gave the younger brother the look and informed him that if the sword wasn't gone in an instant, he would be next for the torture seat.  He protested once that he would puke if he sat in the middle.  I gave him the look ramped up a notch and let him know he had not invented the make-yourself-throw-up technique.  Blissful silence for the rest of the flight.

The grandmother never once even looked at me.  I did get several subtle thumbs up from some passengers sitting in front of us on both sides of the aisle.  As we were deplaning in Burlington, one man asked me what I had said or done that was so effective.  Mostly a look.  A don't mess with a middle school teacher on vacation kind of look.


  1. Perfect...and the fact that they didn't know how far they could or could not push you and that Grandmother was making no effort to intervene may have saved the day.

  2. I think the ability to do that look is genetic.
    I come from a long, long line of teachers, although I did not follow in those footsteps.
    But I can do that look like a pro.
    It worked to great advantage for me when I was waiting tables where Little Darlings were dining.

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  4. I love your blog. And good for you stepping in making it a peaceful trip for everyone.

  5. My son was a biter when he was little. Word reached the nursery in my hometown church. We never knew what Jenny, the nursery worker, said but he never crossed her to bite anyone. Maybe she had a look such as yours that she put on him.

  6. Don't you just love the power of that look that we had to perfect in the classroom. Thanks for mentioning my blog.

  7. I just love that story. I too had read RET's post and was reminded of the awesome power of the "teacher look." It really is almost a physical slap. It scares the bejibbies out of me today. "Withering" comes to mind.

  8. Really, my former students would not consider me a mean teacher at all. But a certain order must be maintained or the job is impossible.

    1. It's left to us old-school oldies to uphold discipline and manners wherever we get the chance. You get my vote. I must practise my look.

  9. You taught MIDDLE SCHOOL! MIDDLE SCHOOL! Impossible. You are far too sane! You must, like Albert Einstein, donate your brain to science upon your passing. It will need to be carefully dissected and studied. How did this woman teach middle school with her sanity intact?

    I only say this from personal observation, when I was in junior high school all the older teachers were loonie. The younger ones were OK but the older ones with few exceptions were eccentric at best if not down right certifiably insane. When my son went to middle school I noticed the same effect. Lest you think that I am anti-teacher, I did not notice this effect in high school or elementary school only junior high school.

    Pubertal poisoning, more disabling than mercury or lead. My theory is that being exposed to the pheromones, attitudes, and thinking of children passing through puberty for three or four decades is far too much stress for the average human psyche. We as a species are designed to tolerate pubertants (yes an invented word but one that I think our society needs) for five years, ten at the most. To subject human beings to decades of exposure to such creatures is the height of occupational neglect--much on the order of asbestos exposure except that the brain (and maybe the liver or spleen) is the target organ.

    Perhaps the eyebrow can be patented. You could make millions in training programs, videos, and books and all the while know that you are saving the minds of legions of middle and junior high school teachers.


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