Beware of the Talkers

In the last week, the Wildcat has received a steady stream of letters and e-mail messages in support of giving the Pastrami Sandwich a weekly column. Unfortunately, the Pastrami Sandwich was arrested Thursday for his involvement with the Critical Mass Bicycle Ride (which is odd because pastrami sandwiches do not have legs). So here's Burstein's column.

They are out there lurking, waiting, scheming. Every semester I've had at least one in one of my classes. I've had them in lecture hall classes and I've had them in classes with less than 20 students. In several cases, they drove me to the edge of utter insanity. One time I nearly jumped out of my seat and said, "You are driving me plum loco!" Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about mean and vindictive things to do to them. I am ranting about . the Talkers.

OK, with all of that buildup, some of you may be wondering, "What exactly is a Talker?" Well, a Talker is someone who asks the teacher at least three questions per class, many of which begin, "I know this is a little off the subject, but ." A Talker is someone who raises his/her hand during class to discuss the mating habits of the Dolichopodid fly . unfortunately the class is Bureaucracy and American Politics. A Talker is someone who feels the need to state the painfully obvious and then act real smug about it. A Talker is someone who continually interrupts lectures in order to question the teacher's knowledge of an issue. I loath Talkers.

I can't count the number of times that Talkers have interrupted my classes. In one of my political science courses, a Talker rambled for an average of three minutes per class (trust me, I began timing the guy because he was so annoying). The class met three times a week for 50 minutes each. The Talker ended up wasting 144 minutes of lecture time with his babbling. Nearly three class periods were wasted by someone making irrelevant comments or asking questions that never pertained to the topic at hand. That's not only time wasted, but it is also tuition dollars.

I can appreciate the fact that people are eager to learn and contribute, but at the same time everyone needs to observe proper classroom etiquette (wow, I suddenly feel like Miss Manners). Here's some tips:

1) If you are raising your hand more times than people in those Sure deodorant commercials, you have a problem.

2) If you find yourself beginning a question with, "This might be off the subject, but . ," stop yourself. This is probably a question best left answered during office hours.

3) If a teacher makes a major error during class (like misplaces a decimal point in a math problem), then it's all right to raise your hand and point it out. If the teacher makes a minor error which has no bearing on rest of the lecture, tell the teacher after class. Very few people are impressed when someone raises his/her hand to point out that the teacher misspelled some long biological term with too many vowels.

4) The soup spoon goes next to the salad fork. Oops . that's for the next column.

5) If people sigh whenever you open your mouth, then it's time to tone down the act cha-cha.

Note to instructors: if you have Talkers in your class, please have a chat with them as quickly as possible. Make sure they know that you appreciate their interest, but they should come to office hours if they want to hold conversations about the lecture material. If need be, tattoo your office hours on their arms. If the Talkers insist on continuing their wicked ways in class, be polite but firm. Do not humiliate them, just ask them to hold their questions until after class. If they still continue, kill them.

The only time I enjoy having a Talker in a class is when there is more than one. A couple of semesters ago, I was in a 50-person class with three Talkers in it. Often times, my friend and I found our interest in the lectures eclipsed by the monumental battle of egos that would take place daily. Any type of dialogue held in class would turn into a contest of "Survival of the Fittest Talker." But unlike Darwin's theory, the one from the shallowest part of the gene pool would almost always win.

Class discussions can be invaluable and students can often learn just as much from each other as they can from instructors. But please, be relevant. The classroom is not a place for grandstanding, it's a place for learning. Let the teacher guide the class. If you want to dominate a class, then become a teacher yourself.

And I will pray for your students.

Jon Burstein is a senior in political science and journalism. He is usually the guy who sits in the back of the class and falls asleep. If you happen to be reading this column and also happen to be sitting next to him, please nudge him.

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