Father's day

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
In a world of show-offs, it's the shrinking violets who win favour, Michael Cook finds

Attention! Attention! Turn on the TV and you'd think the national pastime was not football or fishing but Being Noticed. Contemporary Britain seeks the spotlight. Huge lines of wannabe pop idols and potential celebrities are queueing for the chance of a few seconds' humiliation on Saturday night prime-time. Add the ITV3 re-runs, the Best Ofs and the clip shows and your tortured destruction of some Motown weepie might well amount to your allotted 15 minutes of fame.

In the battle for our diminishing attention span, even genuine celebrities have to fight for their share by taking up ballroom dancing or ice skating, eating bugs in the jungle or smoking themselves into a stupor under the 24-hour gaze of the camera.

In school this morning, I see where this craving of attention is formed.

Whenever Mrs Todd asks a question, Year 3 respond with a needy enthusiasm that might shock Simon Cowell. Thirty potential answers are on the tips of 30 eager tongues. Thirty hands shoot up in the air. But who will be chosen?

There is an art to being picked. Opinions vary as to the precise significance of the angle at which your hand is raised. Some children swear by a two-handed gesture, where the left hand supports the right arm at the elbow as if you need to hold it so high because the answer you have is so right. This strategy is doomed to failure. It's like standing at the bar in a crowded pub and waving a pound;50 note at the barmaid. All this does is draw attention to the fact that you would like, and have the means to pay for, a drink. But so does everyone else. That's why they are standing at the bar.

You must never call out. Calling out the right answer makes you look pushy.

Calling out the wrong answer makes you look thick. And calling out at all makes it statistically less likely that you will be picked in future.

Calling out is a lose-lose-lose situation.

In fact, it is best not to open your mouth at all. Mumbling "I know" is counter-productive and redundant. Teacher knows you know. That's why you have your hand up. A vaguely simian "oo-oo" of enthusiasm shows willing, but sounds annoying. If you must make a noise, then a moan of gentle strain, as if you will burst if you cannot share your knowledge with the rest of the class, will do.

But the best way to get teacher's attention becomes apparent if you spend long enough in the classroom. No teacher can ignore a shy little wave or a hesitant hand. Those who only put their hands up occasionally will always be encouraged by being picked. In short, don't try too hard. It's a lesson that might be learned by our brash and ballsy in-yer-face superstars. Take note, Pete Burns (left): less is more.

Michael Cook is a freelance writer and parent-helper at Jesse Gray primary school, West Bridgford, Nottingham, which his children Alfie and Poppy attend

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