Volume Level 3: Whisperers
In “Old People are Playing you for a Fool”, grandma taught a valuable lesson about whisperers. Whisperers draw you in. Whisperers make you curious. I know I ignore gossip religiously (I’m usually nose deep in a book or having a lovely conversation with my beautiful wife when people gossip) but even I get curious if I see two people in a restaurant leaning close and sharing hushed tones together. What are they saying that I’m not allowed to hear?
Great movie directors know that the key to creating a scary scene is employing the scariest element of all: the unknown. By filming their heroine’s face only from the left side, the audience is on the edge of their seat wondering “what’s happening on the other side of the camera?” Most scary movies released follow the same pattern even:
Advertisers use the unknown to make you buy all sorts of stuff you never need. They offer products that play on your fears of the unknown and offer a beautifully engineered, profit-yielding solution that will fill in the holes of your unknown fears.
Teachers, especially the whispering level teachers, know the power of the unknown, and use the power of the unknown to influence their students behavior in the same way that directors and advertisers use it. Why do students always behave well on the first day of school? They behave well on the first day because it is unknown to them how their teacher will react when they act out. It’s emphatically in your best interest to keep that unspoken fear intact all year long. Ask a whisperer and she could tell you, but don’t ask them during gym class, you’ll never hear them over the sound of dribbling basketballs.
Whispering works to manage a classroom in more ways than simply inspiring fear. For the purpose of organization, we’ll start with why whispering is scary, and how that fear can help manage a classroom. To give us a glimpse into a whisperer’s classroom, please enjoy the following anecdote.
For Full Understanding: Read "What Happens in the Hall Stays in the Hall."
For sake of an introduction, to whispering, here’s what Ms. Undertone from the above linked anecdote did right:
The logic behind whispering being scarier than yelling is rather backwards from what most teachers believe. They believe that screaming is scary to students, and that whispering is done by weak and mild teachers who tend to get walked over. Again, there are times to scream, and there are times to talk, but managing a classroom at the level of a whisper allows you to operate behind a veil of secrecy; whispering keeps students at that first day of school level of staying on your good side.
Whispering offers a range of benefits to teachers. Fear of the unknown is just one of the benefits. Most teachers (myself included) don’t want to manage their classroom by fear. That being said, it’s a tool that teachers would be silly to ignore.
Managing by whispering limits the number of words you speak aloud. By limiting the number of spoken words you deliver during a class, students will eventually learn that during the seventeen words you use to give directions, it’s supremely important to listen, because it’s the only time they’ll hear you speak all period. Teachers who talk to introduce a topic, and talk to give directions, and talk to manage their classroom, and talk to read aloud to their students, simply destroy the value of their words by basic oversupply and under demand. You’ll definitely find the Talking Consta-Reminder in his classroom delivering clear, perfect instructions augmented by a visually pleasing digital multimedia presentation that balances positive and negative space in a way that augments students’ comprehension. You’ll also find the Talking Consta-Reminder repeating his beautiful lesson 26 times again individually to 26 students, or 15 times to 15 students, or 21 times… The Talking Consta-Reminder oversupplies his words and under demands action from his students.
Whispering is uncomfortable, because it is, by nature, done in very close proximity to the student. It’s not nice to be close to students, and students don’t like being close to you. By managing a classroom by whispering, it tends to lend itself to the teacher thinking about what they want to whisper before whispering it. It also tends to limit the length of the message, because it’s awkward to stand all bent over and next to a student’s ear. Whispering, because it’s an uncomfortable activity for both parties involved, will make the whispered conversation it’s own punishment for the student. Plus, teachers will think twice about doing something that makes them uncomfortable, thereby helping them reflect even more on their classroom management methods. Any activity that causes a teacher to think first and speak after, and to limit the length of what they say to manage a student’s behavior, is a win-win. Manipulation of the unknown is just an added benefit.
Wow! Whispering sounds REALLY good. How is it possible that whispering is only level 3? How could Ms. Undertone have gotten her message across if she hadn’t whispered it to Jeremy? Whispering is the best option yet, because of all the advantages listed above, but silence is golden, and should be treated as such by the aspiring classroom manager. Ms. Undertone was effective in part because of the manipulation of the volume of her voice to her own advantage, but there was a bigger management technique at work that really aided her in her effectiveness, and that technique doesn’t require the uttering of a single word.
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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.