On prep periods, I often walk around the school and just listen to my colleagues teach. Some teach louder, some teach softer. The louder teachers seem to try to use a loud volume to force their students’ attention on their words. They try to be so loud, that they pretend not to notice that the kids can carry on conversationally volumed chats amidst the lecture without interrupting the overwhelming power of the teacher’s voice. It makes sense that being louder will overwhelm our students’ ability to resist, doesn’t it?
No, that doesn’t make sense at all. What do people do when there is a loud siren nearby? They cover their ears, and try to block out the sound. Why do loud teachers think that their voice is any different? What did fake Destiny do when she couldn’t hear Grandma? She leaned in. Leaning in is good, it tells an attentive teacher that the kids are paying attention. What did Destiny do when she still couldn’t hear? She moved closer. Imagine a teacher that draws kids in from the back of the room with a whisper, instead of projecting their shouting voice forcibly into every well-counted hole of the suspended ceiling.
A whisper has other advantages. If the teacher is quiet, it is very apparent when anyone makes any noise that is inappropriate or off task. When a classroom is developed to purposely make it harder for students to get away with random badness without any direct intervention, it is far easier to control. This topic will be developed much more thoroughly in the sections about seating charts, and avoiding arguments and explosions. Feel free to fast forward if you want, nothing I share can be proven anyway.
Is whispering always better? No. Nothing is always anything in a classroom. Wow, that last sentence was the most confusing sentence ever written. As a teacher, you need to eliminate ‘always’ from your vocabulary. Contrary to published beliefs, there are no guaranteed methods of achieving anything when students are involved. Some strategies work with some students, other strategies work with other students. The same strategies don’t always work with the same students. Students are in fact humans, not dependent variables as research would have us believe. Some students, despite our best efforts, will not respond to any strategies because they are convinced that failure makes them cooler or more attractive, or more comfortable, or whatever.
While it’s impossible to guarantee anything in a classroom, it is possible to generalize. Generally speaking, you can rank teachers’ classroom management into four levels:
Level 1: Scream!
Level 1 is the lowest and is utilized by the least developed teachers. They see volume as a hammer, and much like hammer swingers believe that a larger hammer will always more successfully complete a hammer swinging job, so do screamers believe that louder is better and more powerful when it comes to volume
Level 2: Talk.
Level 2 is, I believe, the level where most teachers perpetually exist. Talkers realize that screaming, by and large, doesn’t work. Therefore, talkers tend to talk instead. They talk to explain why a student’s behavior is wrong or right, and they talk to explain the academic concepts and skills, and they talk to their students about their lives and dreams, and eventually, they talk about everything. This usually happens by about November. Exclusively talking is, while marginally better than continual screaming, not the level you should aspire to.
Level 3: Whisper...
You probably don’t think of these teachers as whisperers. You probably haven’t even noticed these teachers. That being said, what you haven’t noticed about these teachers speaks volumes -- pun intended. You won’t notice a whisperer who is stressed out before spring break because the kids are just SO bad. You won’t notice a whisperer complaining about their students. You won’t notice a whisperer’s class in session as you walk by their classroom. For all these reasons, whisperers rank above talkers. Not many teachers get to the level of realizing that students actually hear you BETTER when you whisper to them. You also probably won’t notice whisperers breaking up fights, cheering and high-fiving their students, and giving well-deserved hugs at graduation. Whisperers draw their classes in closer to hear what’s said, but there are limits to whispering -- if you have any doubts of this, feel free to volunteer for lunch duty on the day before any extended vacation. As such, whisperers are also not the top level of volume-based classroom management.
Level 4: Silent
Silence is really the mark of the best managed classroom. Level 4 teachers use physical cues to manage their classroom. I’ve only had this experience a few times, with a few students, but it is always magical. I keep trying to get better and better at silently managing my classroom, and the success I’ve enjoyed is largely the purpose I feel competent enough to share this blog with you. Silent teachers can tap a student’s desk with their index finger, and the student knows that they are putting down the student with the IEP again, and immediately corrects their action without a single spoken word. Level 4 teachers never yell, because they can silence students with a single icy glare, and can encourage students with a single upturned eyebrow. Silent teachers represent the pinnacle of teaching volume because to reach the level of silence, they have to master and occasionally and purposely use all the levels below them. Also, by practicing silence, the power of even a spoken whisper is multiplied exponentially.
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.