Raise the roof rarely

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(Mostly for newbies, especially at the middle and high school levels.)

In my last post, I suggested that I might push up the decibel level in response to students’ lack of cooperation. I need to amend that text, especially since I am writing these latest posts with starting teachers in mind. I am not suggesting yelling at students as any sort of regular practice. In fact, I want to emphasize that a teacher’s daily classroom voice should stay within normal, conversational levels. Sometimes, during exciting activities, that level might have to be normal levels with a deaf, elderly relative, but loudness jangles the nerves, as well as implying a lack of control. Humans don’t react well to yelling.

If you are already yelling regularly, you are in trouble. Loud voices work in the short-term but eventually students tune out sound blasts. Strident demands in booming tones work for only so long. What will you do next? The key to pulling down the voice level — yours and theirs — is silence. Don’t talk until the room is quiet. Wait for the quiet. The main reason teachers raise their voices is the same reason voices go up in crowded restaurants: Those teachers want to be heard.

The best way to be heard is to silence the audience. When first getting started, waiting may feel awkward. Wait anyway. Don’t talk over your students. If you do, some of them may try to talk over you and pretty soon the room will sound like a sports bar on Super Bowl week-end.

Don’t be afraid to throw a few penalties into your game. Last year, I took lunch minutes away from my class that met directly before lunch. You take my time, I take yours, I explained. Issuing lunch or afterschool detentions in other classes helps students to understand that when you talk, they don’t talk. Your school will have its own procedures for managing talking — if it doesn’t, go job shopping early this spring — that you will be able to use to keep chatting to a minimum.

Eduhonesty: That said, I have raised that proverbial roof. If a class refused to move to my new seating chart, that level of insubordination might cause a sudden verbal inferno in the classroom. Those skyrocketing decibel levels don’t belong in a daily classroom, but sometimes the provocation becomes too much. Overt prejudice has led to my yelling in class. Absurdly poor homework or classwork performance has pushed me over the edge. If 90% of the class decided to skip the homework because of a soccer game on T.V., I might erupt.

I try to keep my temper. I almost always succeed. I try to keep my sense of humor. I almost always succeed. But I’m human. Teachers are human and teaching is becoming a higher stress job by the year in my view, as testing, data and paperwork demands are added into the mix. So don’t clobber yourself if you raise your voice sometimes. Just remember that the more you use loudness to manage behavior, the less effective loudness will become.