The Quiet Teacher
This past week at school the staff have been dropping like flies. The Ekka winds are blowing and everyone in South East Queensland know this heralds not only the arrival of fairy floss, carnival rides and agricultural awards but also a huge dose of winter ailments. In my staffroom six of us lost our voices. I’m starting to suspect some sort of biological warfare: If you want to plot a successful takedown at a school what better way to do it than silencing the teachers?
The symptoms of laryngitis are more of an irritant than a miserable I-can’t-function type of illness. Despite the complete absence of sound I was optimistically foolish enough on Tuesday to think I could keep calm and carry on teaching. A well-modulated voice is our most important teaching tool but it is certainly not the only one. I saw this vocal setback as an opportunity to bring the others out and sharpen them up. Tools like pausing, using facial expressions, monitoring, using the board and making gestures.
In my four year return to the classroom this is not the first time I have struggled with my voice. Presenting for up to five hours a day, five days a week can really take a toll on it. In these types of professions you really need to protect your asset. At the beginning I thought I was immune to the issues as I was a play-acting speech and drama kid who also forayed into singing. I know the rule when you project volume is it has got to come from right down in your pubic region! I talk a lot in my classroom because I love to give out clear directions and positive affirmations. Relationship building is my super power. ‘Great editing! I like the way you’ve used interesting vocabulary! Let’s discuss this issue because I want to hear your ideas on it! Cool haircut!’ Anyway, you get the drift. In the past I have joked that noisy chaos seems to follow me around at school. But this week proved to be a revelation.
My classes are noisy because I am noisy.
With no voice on hand I found my students to be sympathetic, amused and willing to step into the void. This week you could have heard a pin drop in the room. Once I had explained by writing on the board ‘I have lost my voice’ they all knowingly nodded and then proceeded to not say another word. When I whispered ‘I know I’ve lost my voice, but what’s wrong with yours?’ they merely shrugged and chuckled and got back to following the outlined work on my better-decorated-than-usual PPT. When I whispered to individual students to check their understanding they whispered their answers back at me.
Now I’ll admit it; my classes this year are generally well-behaved. Last year I actually strained a voice muscle due to a rookie mistake of always trying to be heard above the off-task behaviour that I couldn’t quite crack all year long. So perhaps this revelation only applies to a small demographic. Still, it reminded me that in the classroom it is so important to be aware that we teachers set the tone. If I bring positive energy the kids get carried along on it, if I’m tired and grumpy the kids are going to get cranky, and if I’m quiet the kids are going to have the space to actually be able to think!
In saying all this I am thrilled to say my voice is returning. I've been nursing myself back to health with lots of rest and green vege juice to boost my vitamin C. Perhaps this week I’ll treat my class to a serenade to celebrate...