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Memories and Musings: Please follow the directions

By Gene Gallelli

Why do so many individuals – mostly men – find that reading directions is an insult to their intelligence? Really! Doesn’t it bother anyone that has put together a gas grill that opens nicely from the front to then discover the control knobs are on the back? Or, to bake a cake by mixing all the listed ingredients while thinking, “How hard can it be?” and subsequently pull out from the oven a bubbly mess that was a combination of directions for the basic cake, the frosting and the “sprinkles” topping?

During my early elementary teaching days – fourth, fifth and sixth grades – it didn’t take long for me to recognize and be concerned by the fact that elementary children don’t like to read or follow directions (apologies to the handful that did).

One weekend at home, as I stood in the kitchen holding two screws and a round plastic “something” that should have gone somewhere on the towel rack I had assembled, I realized I was no better than the kids. I vowed – sort of – to hereafter read and follow directions. But, what about the kids? I’m a teacher, shouldn’t I do something about following directions so they don’t turn out like I did?

I had an idea!

Early Monday morning, following announcements, I handed my sixth graders what I referred to as a fun “warm up” activity to begin the day. In addition to the “directions” – which told them to read all ten items before beginning – ten “activity” items were listed on the handout. They were told they had ten minutes to complete the activity.

During the next ten minutes, I watched members of my class stand up and give their name and street address, spin around five times, write their names on the chalk board and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The five or six who had read the directions did item ten, which directed them to only write their name and the date at the top of the handout and then, wait quietly.

Of course, the aforementioned five or six were also amused by the performances of their fellow classmates. They did a good job giggling quietly.

After ten minutes into the very busy activity I announced, “Times up!”

We all laughed after I explained what had happened and why. The entire class raised hands when I asked, “Who now thinks it’s important to read and follow directions?” One student kept his hand raised and when I called on him said, “You guys might have followed directions, but the rest of us had the most fun!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Gene Gallelli was associate superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.

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