Volume Level 2: Talkers
Talking doesn’t change students’ behavior. No matter what you say, talking doesn’t change student’s behavior. No matter what a student says to you, whether it is truthful or deceitful, talking does not indicate a change in student behavior. Talking just doesn’t work. The truth of this statement can be embodied by one of my go-to classroom sayings "don't be sorry, be quiet." That saying has many iterations. "Don't be sorry, be sensible." "Don't be sorry, be polite." "Don't be sorry, be engaged." Kids love "talking" the words "I'm sorry." It has become largely meaningless. A change in behavior is the only thing that matters in a classroom.
If talking worked to change human behavior, no one would smoke, because everyone in the educated world has heard many well-written and well-delivered video testimonials from deformed former smokers whose entire face has fallen off due to smoking. Smoking has been accurately talked about with research-based evidence to an extent that I’m confident that even my musty running sneakers that my wife forces to live in the garage would never lift a cigarette. People, however, are slightly duller than my mustiest, oldest running sneakers, and so, many of us still lift and light cigarettes.
If talking worked to change human behavior, there would be no jails, because you could explain to a drug dealer or thief why what they did was wrong, she would understand, and she would never steal again.
If talking worked to change human behavior, Mr. Reminder wouldn’t be reading this book right now, because his class would work perfectly, like the fake-utopian classroom of the first anecdote. Mr. Reminder wouldn’t have searched the inter-web for books about classroom management in the first place, because as so many people think, teaching would be easy.
Talking doesn’t work, though, and the silent teachers know why. Sadly, you’ll never hear them tell you their reasoning, because they’ve been silently managing their classroom since 1972. The secretary doesn’t even know the silent teachers’ names, but she knows to respond to their emails immediately and she knows the appropriate morning hello is a single up-nod, and nothing more. The silent teacher has trained the secretary with her silent methodology.
Talking is better than yelling though. For one, Mr. Reminder consistently reminded Jon about the expectations, and in a talker’s class, Jon would be able to parrot back what the rules and expectations were. "Talkers" students won't necessarily follow those rules, but they'll at least know them. That's why "talkers" are a step up from the average screamer because screamers generally only use contrite phrases like ‘you’re wrong,’ or ‘get out,’ or ‘that’s not allowed here.’ You’ll notice that none of the phrases you’ll overhear screamers using really offer any insight at all for students.
Talkers, while they will likely be ignored by students, are at least sharing some valuable words with them. Also, because talkers are less confrontational, they won’t end up with the same “let’s see if we can make him scream” attitude that screamers do. Talkers might never even notice that they have weak classroom management if they work in a school full of students that generally do what they’re supposed to do. Put a talker into a school of kids who are a little more ornery though, or in front of the average group of disgruntled teachers and administrators stuck at an in-service day, and all of a sudden their explanatory management methods will be revealed as useless.
Talkers are the kind of people you see as professional developers, who start fifteen minutes late because it really seems like the staff they’re training still wants to talk and sip their coffee longer. They’re the kind of managers who let small, disruptive behaviors go until they become something scream-worthy. They’re the kind of classroom managers represented by principals who will release a full-staff memo or email about how jeans are not allowed to be worn on Tuesdays, even though only one teacher regularly shows up in jeans and a repulsive zip-up hooded sweatshirt on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Mondays, and Fridays.
Talking, like screaming, is a tool in the effective classroom manager’s arsenal, but like screaming, it has a specific place and purpose. Talking works well to explain to students the background behind the rule, so they understand why it is enforced. Talking works well to rebuild a relationship after a rule is broken and a situation gets heated. Talking, though, is only level two, because talkers still usually miss out on the crux of classroom management. Any level four silent classroom manager could tell you the secret to being a silent manager, but that would make noise, and noise distracts their students from the academic work they’re doing.
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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.