No one wants to be an ogre in a social situation, and this is particularly true when it is someone else’s responsibility to address the problem. But what is a person to do when the person in charge does not take charge?
Recently, I attended a drop-in exercise class at a local arts center. While putting on my ballet slippers, I noticed several attractively presented lists of advice to young dancers. While providing tips on how to be considerate of other dancers, it was clear the advice would also lead to the smooth running of the dance classes, maximizing enjoyment of the learning experience for all concerned. Seeing the signs as helpful and well-presented, I admired the teacher’s use of this in her studio hallway and thought it would influence young dancers to respect and enjoy their experience there.
But when I attended a class there with a few adults, I immediately saw that more signs were desperately needed. One should have read NO CELL PHONES. During this one-hour class, one student’s cell phone rang raucously on no fewer than five occasions. Frankly, I was astonished that the student herself did not rush to quell the noise the first time it rang, and to turn the thing off. But when she repeatedly received calls — announced by loud, long ring tones that went on and on and on — and did nothing about it, I felt not only peeved at her but disappointed with the instructor who was in charge of the class.
The disruptive situation here was clearly the result of the cell phone owner’s obliviousness and lack of consideration for others. But when she did not make an effort to stop the phone’s annoying ringing, the teacher should have politely but firmly told her that this was unacceptable. After all, the teacher had a responsibility to the other paying students to provide a satisfying class. Everyone would have applauded her taking action here and, particularly if the teacher had stated a studio policy rather than vilifying the individual, the cell phone-toting student would probably have handled the situation just fine.
But given that the teacher did not step in, what should an individual do in such a situation? The most diplomatic answer is to approach the teacher after class, out of the hearing of the offending student, and politely but firmly suggest that she post signs asking students to turn off cell phones before they enter each class. This way, she would prevent the disruptive situation from occurring.
Accompany the request with praise for the class and point out how the pleasant atmosphere, learning situation and overall experience of the class is unnecessarily shattered when cell phones sound, and say that you would like to have confidence that future classes will not be interrupted in this way. If the teacher seems young or inexperienced, you might also suggest that he or she institute the no-cell-phones rule as a general policy, so any single individual does not feel targeted. If the teacher does not take your advice, you will either be in the awkward position of addressing the offending individual yourself, or the annoying position of watching one student’s obliviousness ruin an instructional experience.