October ends with Halloween. So in honor of this most American of holidays, I'd like to conjure up some classroom ghouls, trainee tricksters, and participant poltergeists. We've all been terrorized by them. They spark fear in the most stalwart of trainers, and they are those most difficult of trainees: the creatures of the classroom.
Although they can scare even the most experienced instructors, there are some effective strategies for dealing with these ghastly entities.
The invisible participant
This creature is a major classroom disruptor. It never appears on time. Instead, it arrives late, bursts in, and distracts attention during critical lesson points. The best strategy is to show resolve. Begin your instruction when you say you'll start. No matter how unsettling the disruption may be, do not be manipulated into repeating yourself. Make it obvious that you control the clock. The irritating invisible participant may realize it only hurts itself by not being present. If the creature is too doomed to realize its loss, it is untamable. In this case, the best approach to protect your other participants is to ignore it.
This creature haunts your location because it cannot escape. Whether required to attend by leadership mandate or to fulfill a job or college requirement, this attendee is trapped. The resentment the poltergeist feels compels it to complain, argue, or otherwise make its presence known. Fortunately the creature is not as dangerous as it appears. It longs for sympathy for its misery. Face it squarely. Welcome it. Connect with its concerns. Show it that you mean it no harm. You may be able to free the poltergeist and release the willing learner within.
This is the most fearful of creatures. With Godzilla-like focus, it pushes everyone aside. It then demands that every situation, group, and discussion be under its control. Although the dominator is a terrible sight to behold, it can be controlled. The dominator respects power. An instructor could shout or insult this monster into submission, but beware. A direct putdown might make the dominator more sympathetic, but a wiser dominator defense strategy is to avoid direct confrontation. Rely instead on participant power. Divide the participants into small groups that select their leaders. The other participants will, out of self-preservation, modify the dominator's behavior for you.
This creature seems harmless but can be annoying. Masking itself with an exterior act of extreme friendliness, the fly flutters from participant to participant, projecting an infectious stream of words and an almost-too-ready laugh at anything remotely funny. It is, fortunately, harmless. The fluttering is often just a call for help. The best approach is to gain its trust through a comfortable classroom environment. Once the creature relaxes, you can focus it on your instruction. Then you can take comfort in the knowledge that any questions you ask the class will have a ready, if almost too eager, respondent.
A braggart and self-proclaimed expert on any subject discussed, this creature spews random, irrelevant factoids all over the room. This may be difficult to stop, but as with many abhorrent behaviors, the underlying cause is insecurity. Acknowledge the creature's presence. Ask it for assistance. Thank it for its expertise. A relaxed bloviator is a quiet bloviator.
This creature, nocturnally natured, rarely comes alive in daylight. Whether tired from a night of rampaging or simply bored with your class, the zombie barely opens its eyes. The shyer members of the species will hide in the back of the room. An excellent strategy for confronting a zoned-out zombie is to ignore it. It may then sleep quietly. Unfortunately, however, some zoned-out zombies make loud, menacing snoring sounds. Then, you have to wake the creature. The time-honored approach is to stand behind it and speak loudly. The result is a startled creature. A wiser strategy is to attract it with enjoyment. If it feels it may miss something interesting, it may wake up. If you catch a zombie looking through squinted eyes, or opening one eye a crack, you have captured its attention.
Sucking the life out a classroom, this creature complains about everything. The room is too cold, the coffee too strong, the chairs too hard, the material too simple, and the participants too stupid. You must drive a stake through this behavior. Otherwise, your classroom will sink into a graveyard-like funk. Some vampires can be stopped by pleasurable distractions, some want sympathy, and others will slink away once they have had their say. Stronger vampires require direct instructor intervention. Pull the vampire aside, and seek its understanding. If that doesn't work, employ the dominator strategies detailed earlier.
In a slow, ever-growing mass of lethargy, the blob can possess even the most eager, enthusiastic learner. Blobism is often directly related to the time of day. A lack of sleep the night before can cause morning blobs to invade your learners. At its worst around midafternoon, overindulgence in carbohydrates during lunch causes afternoon blobs. Blobism can also be transmitted from trainer to trainee. To avoid becoming a carrier, presenters should maintain their health through adequate rest, proper diet, and an engaging presentation style.
Until now, this article has focused on those creatures most likely to be found in the learner population. There is an even more sinister, dangerous creature, known to sap the curiosity out of even the most eager learner. Robo-teacher syndrome is a sneaky illness against which a trainer must carefully guard himself. It starts as instructor boredom, which progresses into a tired delivery and eventually degenerates into energy-sucking, mind-numbing, monosyllabic nonsense. Very few students have a chance against an instructor in the grip of this living sleep. Fortunately, there is an easy cure. The illness has been effectively avoided by trainers who feel and demonstrate a passion for their subject, stay current on the latest relevant learning research, care deeply about both their presentation and their learners, and seek help or quit before the illness destroys their participants' desire to learn.
Although creatures lurk in every classroom, effective training can scare these ghouls away. However, if none of the solutions listed here works, serve candy. Ghoulish creatures have been known to go from door to door seeking treats. But beware then of a different kind of creature: the sugar-hyped, overly energized, classroom clown.