How to Secure and Hold the Attention ~ The Catholic Teacher’s Companion


This book was written at the turn of the 20th century for Catholic teaching nuns. It is called The Catholic Teacher’s Companion  – A book of Inspiration and Self-Help by Rev. Felix M. Kirsch, O.M.C. (1924). The lessons between the covers are valuable for parents, educators and all who work with children.

From The Catholic Teacher’s Companion, 1924


A very large part of the teacher’s task consists in arousing the interest of her pupils for the work of the school. Teaching is not simply giving out lessons and correcting exercises. It is the question of winning the loyal cooperation of human beings, of touching their imagination, rousing their interest, stirring their ambition, making them want to learn.

The teacher may know facts and figures, but she will fail nevertheless if she does not know human beings and their craving for subjects of interest. A. C. Benson says on this head:

 “A school lesson should be in the nature of a dramatic performance, from which some interest and amusement may be expected; while at the same time there must be solid and businesslike work done.

Variety of every kind should be attempted; the blackboard should be used, there should be some simple jesting, there should be some anecdote, some disquisition, and some allusion, if possible, to current events, and the result should be that the boys should not only feel that they have put away some definite knowledge under lock and key, but also that they have been in contact with a lively and more mature mind.

Exactly in what proportion the cauldron should be mingled, and what its precise ingredients should be, must be left to the taste and tact of the teacher.”

Indeed, the teacher’s personality plays an important role in this respect. A tedious teacher may render even the most attractive subject dull to her pupils, while the enthusiastic and wide-awake teacher may make even dry and forbidding subjects interesting.

It would be well for every teacher to heed the advice given by A. C. Benson:

“The best training that a teacher can get is the training that he can give himself. If he has found an illustration or a story effective, let him note it down for future use; let him read widely rather than profoundly, so that he has a large stock-in-trade of anecdote and illustration.

Let him try experiments; let him grasp that monotony is the one thing that alienates the attention of boys sooner than anything else; let him contrive to get brisk periods of intense work rather than long tracts of dreary work. These are facts which can only be learned by practice and among the boys.

 I declare, I believe that one of the most useful qualities that I have found myself to possess from the point of view of teaching is the capacity for being rapidly and easily bored myself. If the tedium of a long and dull lesson is insupportable to myself, I have enough imagination to know that it must be far worse for the boys.”

Yet there may be times when the teacher must check a pupil’s interest, for instance, if he is interested in a one-sided way in a subject for which he is particularly gifted, while ignoring the rest of the curriculum. Such a pupil must be compelled to study the essential subjects, even though they appear devoid of interest to him.

With persistent efforts he may find even these full of interest, as there is hardly anything that will not arouse some interest if we occupy ourselves with it for some time. But in general the teacher may follow the advice given by Charles W. Eliot:

“Enlist the interest of every pupil in every school in his daily tasks in order to get from him hard, persistent, and enjoyed work. Make every pupil active, not passive; alert, not dawdling; led or piloted, not driven, and always learning the value of cooperate discipline.”

But in order to carry out these directions for creating interest, we must have interested teachers, for without the latter we can never hope to have interested pupils. The teacher should be generally interested in what is going on, and not be merely bursting with superfluous information.

To sit and be pumped into, as Carlyle said, speaking of Coleridge’s conversation, is never an exhilarating process.


If the teacher cannot secure and hold the pupils’ attention, her best efforts will be in vain. But our pupils are often wrapped up in their own little world, and special efforts will be required for securing their attention.

Comenius gives the following excellent rules for securing the pupils’ attention:

  1. Always bring before the pupils something pleasing and profitable.
  2. Introduce the subject of instruction in such a way as to commend it to them, or stir the intelligence into activity by inciting questions regarding the matter in hand.
  3. Stand in a place elevated above the class, and require that all eyes be fixed on the teacher.
  4. Assist the attention by representing everything as far as possible to the senses.
  5. Interrupt the instruction by frequent and pertinent questions, for example, “What have I just said?”
  6. If a pupil fails to answer, ask another pupil or several, without repeating the question.
  7. Occasionally demand the answer from several and thus stir up rivalry.
  8. Give an opportunity to anyone to ask questions when the lesson is finished.

Some teachers make the mistake of resorting to violent measures for the sake of getting and retaining the attention of their pupils. But all such measures defeat their very purpose, for we believe that calmness on the part of the teacher is a necessary condition for holding the pupils’ attention.

It is not given to many teachers to possess the calmness of Fray Luis de Leon. He, a holy and very learned man, had been imprisoned for more than four years. On his release and restoration to his professorial chair, he quietly remarked, the classic legend runs, “As we were saying yesterday,” and calmly continued the lecture his imprisonment had interrupted.

Though such calmness is of a heroic degree, we agree with the writer in The Sower who says that calmness is the acid test for teachers.

There is an old legend that whenever and wherever a kingfisher builds her nest, she brings calm, golden weather. Calmness is a real test for teachers. Not the now-and-then kind, but the unceasing, unshaken sort which can only be bought at a dear price.

A teacher should be calm, because, if she has this gift, she is not a nervous woman, and because no one, however gifted, however amiable, who suffers from nerves, should have charge of children.

Nuns as a rule are not nervous invalids. A nun’s personality has been through the mill in the novitiate. The reward of all this is serenity, and this serenity, together with all the ingredients which have gone to the making of it—all that the nun has learned and suffered and sacrificed—reacts powerfully on the children.

Each of us, on entering a room, adds his special contribution to its spiritual atmosphere, and each contribution is mutually infectious. A restless child makes a restless class, and so does a restless teacher. But a well-balanced teacher makes a class of well-balanced children—and we shall add, of attentive children.

She ought not to be ignorant of what used to be considered the chief, if not the only occupation for women,—she ought to be fit to keep house on the shortest notice. It is a woman’s heritage. -Gentle Art of Homemaking, Annie Swan

“The alarm went off. Rose stretched and slowly pried her eyes open. Already? It seemed like she had just fallen into a deep sleep. The baby had been especially restless that night and so she was sooo tired. But the day must begin…”

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