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Eye Contact

1. On Eye Contact

In Switzerland, I understand, it is considered poor form to toast someone without making direct, intentional eye contact with them. Having been told this, Trudy and I have adopted the habit. Whenever our glasses meet in cheer, so do our eyes — intentionally, with the unspoken knowledge that we are following the Swiss tradition.

But of course, eye contact is more than a Swiss tradition. You might argue that it’s part of being a decent person. Acknowledge those around you. Greet them with a smile and a sparkle in your eye. You might argue that it’s just good manners. If so, count me as rude, for I find eye contact hard to initiate and difficult to maintain.

I am not alone in this. But as the years go by, I find that even I yearn for a glance from a neighbor driving by or a nod from one of my students in the hall. As you might imagine, getting eye contact from teenagers in the hall is a dicey proposition. 

Perhaps making eye contact is just something that needs to be explicitly taught. If so, and given that I am a teacher, then perhaps this responsibility falls to me.

2. Making Eye Contact with Me

“When you are done with the final,” I said, “please put it in the purple tray by the door, and return to your desk.”

“And if you want to use your phones, first make explicit eye contact with me.”

That was simple enough. And in the end, all of them did as I asked, in all cases catching my attention and motioning silently so as to ask if they could use their phones — in all cases but one.

This student is one of the best. Scores high. Understands well. Asks questions. Takes good notes. So it was no surprise that she also followed my instructions — followed them to a tee.

At some point during the final, I looked up and noticed her silently sitting, hands on desk, head turned, eyes focused on me. When I saw her and she saw that I saw her, her eyes widened slightly, but she didn’t move, didn’t make any gestures, just stared more intensely, impeccably following the instructions I had given: “Make eye contact with me.”

Eye contact having been made. The protocol had been followed. She knew it. I knew it.

I smiled and nodded my head imperceptibly. And with this signal, she reached into her backpack and pulled out her ear buds and phone.