Attention Teachers: Who Else Hates the Intercom?!

I laughed out loud reading Jay Mathews’ recent column titled The Case of the Silent Loudspeaker. Seems as if a testy teacher got fed up with constant classroom interruptions over the school intercom and solved the problem with a pair of wire clippers and a step ladder. "She used the extra bits of uninterrupted learning time to focus on math word problems and reading novels and several other techniques that captured her students’ interest, and raised their achievement levels significantly," writes Mathews. 

I took a similar approach a few years back—with a bit less success. Having griped about the constant intercom interruptions that were plaguing my class, I unscrewed the speaker from the ceiling and left it in the hallway, along with my classroom phone. My students literally celebrated—it was a grand revolution to them. Standing up to the man in favor of learning made me an instant hero to a group of kids that were as fed up with "the voice from above" as I was.

It wasn’t long before an administrator rolled through my room, though. "Is there something wrong with your intercom?"  he asked. "Yup," I replied. "I don’t know why, but the stupid thing goes off probably three or four times a day. It must be broken." 

The speaker was reinstalled by the time I got back to school the next day.

What is it about announcements that loosens teachers’ screws?  Interruptions like these—shared with me by a few colleagues I caught up with this afternoon:

1. The lawn outside of one teacher’s classroom was regularly mowed during instructional hours. "Try keeping the attention of twelve-year olds with a dude riding a lawn mower bigger than a Humvee and louder than a Harley rolling by for an hour," she shared.

2. "Our classroom computers—used in my room for daily presentations—were taken for "tune-ups" without advanced notice because ‘that was when the tech-guy could come’," wrote another.

3. "An "all-call" was made—interrupting every class in the building—asking teachers to check their email for an important message. The message:  Our faculty meeting time had been changed for that afternoon."

4.  "The name of every single player who’d gotten a hit in a 19-4 rout on the baseball diamond being read on the morning of an important unit test for my students."

Mathews is right on target when he writes, "The amount of time taken up by loudspeaker announcements each day is small, but it adds up. It also reinforces the notion that classroom time is not so important that it can’t be interrupted for trivialities and sugary entertainment." Trivial announcements send messages that cheapen the work that teachers do each day. "What we’re doing here isn’t as important as what is happening somewhere else," we subtly tell our students.  "Oh yeah, and remember that your teacher isn’t really in charge."

Who else hates the intercom? I’d love to hear similar stories. It’ll make me feel like I’m not drowning in my frustrations alone.  Leave a comment—let’s all share a laugh.

10 thoughts on “Attention Teachers: Who Else Hates the Intercom?!

  1. Susan

    After a combination of 14 intercom, phone call, and visitor disruptions (that was just in the morning), I brought the matter to the assistant principal during my lunch break who was “in charge” for the day. When I visited him at his office, he was talking to someone via his bluetooth. He motioned for me to enter and have a seat.
    Once I thought I had his undivided attention, I stated my concerns regarding all the interuptions we receive throughout the day. He stated that he never really noticed all the intercom messages being sent school-wide. Right in the middle of our conversation about disruptions he startfd talking about a completly different topic. I started to ask what he was talking about when he stated that he was having another conversation on the phone. This happened two more times after that. Each time he turned his attention back to me to keep going, he would check his watch. After the third and final phone call was completed, he looked blankly back at me and said, “What were we talking about?”
    I quickly got up and said, “Sorry to have interrupted your day. I guess my concerns are not that important.” I left his office. We ended up having a total of 37 disruptions for the day. We average about 18 per day.

  2. Mike

    My favorite? And, as Dave Barry used to day, I am not m aking this up: “Would the cheerleaders report to Ms. Smith’s class yesterday.”

  3. John Norton

    George replied to Gail, above…
    “Our school has just put phones in each classroom. They are set NOT to ring during the day until after school and any caller’s messages go automatically into a voice mail box to be retrieved at the pleasure of the teacher. Our messages for students, etc are all hand delivered to the classroom, so NO interruptions occur during instructional time. (None, that is, except for the general PA stuff to the entire school.)”

  4. John Norton

    Posted for Gail…
    “Add to the loudspeaker interruptions a phone in the classroom which rings all day long asking kids to come to the office, come check out, etc. I have seriously considered putting it on Do Not Disturb during class, but I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with admin.
    “Don’t get me wrong–having a phone in my room is WONDERFUL because I can easily contact parents and make personal phone calls when necessary during planning. However, it drives me NUTS when I’m in a great lesson that’s engaging and flowing, and then the phone rings. I have to check it in case it’s the office…..and of course it’s in the back of the room, and then I lose my kids’ attention and have to bring them back. I usually say when it rings, “I’M TRYING TO MOLD YOUNG MINDS HERE!” This, of course, the kids find to be hilarious.”

  5. Nancy Flanagan

    Like other readers, it’s hard for me to choose just one irritating disruption…but:
    My superintendent started the practice of “walk-throughs” in each building once a month. He read about walk-throughs in some book (probably titled “How to Be the Worlds’ Best Superintendent”) and bingo! there he was in our classrooms once a month, just walking through.
    Well, when the superintendent strolls in, kids think it’s a big deal. No matter how many times someone says to carry on, he’s a psychic disruption. Our superintendent, moreover, was one of those people who has to be in the spotlight. So he used to go back into the percussion section and pick up the cymbals, hit the gong, or give the ratchet a few twists.
    I finally had the kids put all the small percussion equipment back into the cabinet and locked up the gong on the 2nd Friday of the month.

  6. Mary Tedrow

    This year I hung a sign on my door: I’m teaching. GO AWAY! My class is not interrupted by the intercom so much as runners from the office. All to do with administrivia that pulls kids from class whenever the AP’s want to. The reason for the sign? 6 interruptions in one class day! Since we are required to keep the door locked for safetly reasons I have to stop and open the door, losing everyone’s attention in the meantime. When I test no one dares interrupt. (7 knocks on the door one day when my kids were taking a timed writing.) But when I’m doing something as insignificant as teach, it is apparently OK to interrupt. The way I see it, we’re held accountable for the assessments but no one is held accountable for seeing that instruction is left unmolested.

  7. Liz Woolard

    Two weeks ago I helped break up a terrible fight between 2 girls in our cafeteria. I was simply trying to buy a salad for lunch but “no good deed goes unpunished”. Two days latter, the assistent principal who was handling the referrel for the fight, called into my room on the intercom.”Ms.Woolard,can(it is never a question of convenience but of ability to physically pick up a receiver!) you pick up the phone?” Please understand that my phone is very loud–I hold it 12 inches from my ear to save what little hearing I have left. “Did the students use profanity during the fight?” was her question. All my students can hear her. I answered that one did. The reply was stunning to me–“Can you tell me what she said–I need exact words!” My class collectively held their breath on that one. I told her that the “s” word and the “MF” word were used. “No, no… you must say them… only that is good enough for my report.” I told her to PLEASE contact me latter and hung up. The students applauded!

  8. Renee Moore

    My worst experiences with classroom interruptions came not from the intercom but from visitors. I like having people come to my room to watch; I eagerly invite parents and colleagues to come, with the understanding that they sit and watch, without distracting or interfering.
    I’m talking about administrators, messengers from the office, once I even had a school board member walk into the room in the middle of a lesson to ask me my opinion of the principal and superintendent. One of my principals needed a report written for the central office, so he sent my students to the gym and told me to take the rest of the day to get it done. When I complained that my students needed their lesson, he responded: “This is more important.”

  9. Linda Emm

    My loudspeaker story (and I have a ton of them!) was in the climacticmoments of the play “Love Letters”. The audience of middle schoolers was rapt, and one of the characters was eulogizing the untimely death of his life-long love, when… You guessed it! “PERFECT ATTENDANCE FOR TODAY…” The audience, as one, turned to the blaring speaker and yelled, “Stop!”. The very next day, I, too clipped those wires. I did it very neatly, though, and no one realized it until state testing time.
    My story for just plain ridulous timing and noise -the chorus room was being re-wired, and in the middle of class, in comes a guy with a jackhammer – who proceeded to move us all to one side of the room and starting blasting away.
    When I picked my chin off the floor, I had the kids sit and just stare at what he was doing. He stopped the machine, looked at me in an irritated way, and said – with a straight face! – just teach as you normally teach. And he went back to jack-hammering at a deible level not intended for human ears.
    Ahhh, our system and your tax dollars at work!
    Linda Emm

  10. Marsha Ratzel

    For us it saying the Pledge with in sync with the intercom. I am all for saying the pledge…I truly believe in doing it. But it doesn’t start right after the bell and so you wait and wait…and no one starts. So you start class. Sure enough!!! Then the person leading the pledge over the intercom starts. We can’t hear it very well so we are faster or slower than the leader. Finally we’ve given up, disconnected the speaker and one of the class leads us at the start of class.
    I went on the warpath and advocated for putting all those all-important announcements onto an email distribuation list. Now, thankfully, they arrive each morning in our inbox…and if they are relevant to my group of students, I pass it on. If not, then I don’t tell them.

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