I must have been about fourteen at the time. The headmaster (or high school principal) convened a regular daily assembly of the school. Small excitable children don't always stop talking fast enough for authority figures. This particular time it must have been too much for him, because he shouted:
Every time I open my mouth an idiot speaks.
There was no irony here, and he really had no idea what the joke was. I remember looking at all of the teachers to see their reaction. You could tell a lot about school politics from which people were openly laughing and which ones were staring at infinity, sucking in their cheeks.

This wasn't an isolated incident either. Another time at assembly he said:

Boys will NOT play with their balls in the covered area. Otherwise a member of staff will approach them.
I suppose the fact that this person was directing my education really ought to annoy me, but in truth I remember him rather fondly.

I ran into this little anecdote watching a Biography of the actor Peter Falk.

It seems that one day in Falk's Ossining, NY school, the teacher of Peter's class had to go to the office for some reason or another. She asked Peter to watch the class while she was away.

Now, many of you may not know that Peter Falk lost an eye when he was a toddler. But the kids in school certainly did; he was the continual butt of jokes.

So Peter walked up to the desk, removed his glass eye, and placed it on the desk facing the class. Upon which he said:

"I've got my eye on you."

The best technique I've ever seen used for getting the attention of elementary school aged kids is one I see the vice-principal use at school assemblies. When the children are becoming unruly he stops talking and begins to clap in rhythm. The children copy what he does. For example he may slap his thighs twice in quick succession then clap his hands together three times slowly. After about two rounds of this, every child in the auditorium has quit talking and is paying attention to him. Then he can continue his presentation. This is the best use of child psychology that I've seen yet. He speaks not a word, yet captures the attention of every child in that room.

A friend of mine was working as a student teacher in a primary school - and the class would just not shut up.

She said that those who could hear her had to stick out their tongue. Some kids were listening, so duly complied - and those who hadn't been paying attention asked what was going on, and did so too.

And it worked. The entire class shut up, and as a bonus, they were all looking pretty stupid.

An old trick from a school assembly presenter (no microphone required) for grades K-6:

Put your own hand on the appropriate part of your body as you say the following:

"If you can hear me put your hand on your shoulder.
If you can hear me put your hand on your chin.
If you can hear me put your hand on your head.
If you can hear me put your hand on your nose.
If you can hear me put your hands in your lap."
Even if only the first row of children can hear you, the students behind them feel like they're missing something, so they quiet down and join in. The room is usually silent by the time you get to the hands in the lap, but you can continue adding motions until you have their attention.

Pulling out a large super soaker also gets their attention, but does nothing to make them less unruly. And teachers have told me that pointing a gun (even a bright green and orange plastic water gun) at their students was in very bad taste. Interesting observation: pulling out the water gun increases the ambient unruliness only until you use it, at which point it peaks. (Was it Ibsen who said that a gun onstage must go off in the second act?)
Chiisuta replies "I think it was Chekhov's gun." Hmmm. Maybe Chekhov said it, but the guns in question are definitely Norwegian.

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