A few days back I got use an old skill that I thought might have been lost forever. In my new semi-retired state I have left behind many of the day-to-day techniques that had become second nature over the last few decades. But as I was sitting in the cafeteria at the elementary school where I spend four afternoons a week corralling miscreants and practicing educational psychology, I happened to notice that one little boy, two rows away from me, was having issues.
As a professional educator when faced with a roomful of adolescents I habitually scan the enclosed area looking for behavioral malfeasance wherever it may occur and upon encountering it I have no choice but to act. After so many years it is automatic. And it is a talent or possibly a bad habit, that sometimes makes me unpopular at venues like Chuckie Cheese and Toys R Us. Mea culpa, but there is nothing I can do to prevent my interference, for a career teacher it’s like breathing.
So it was when I saw two children taking another boy’s lunch bag in tag-team tandem just to torment him, and in spite of the fact of my being two rows away in a massive, very loud, high-ceilinged room, I clearly heard him say, “Stop it!” I had to respond. I decided to call up the old skill and put it to use.
I stood and taking one step towards them, said, “Did you hear him?” using my TEACHER VOICE.
I was rewarded with immediate and absolute silence falling upon the hundred or so formerly voluble progeny. The two tormentors in question turned to look towards me immediately and meekly nodding as the smiles left their faces, they handed the lunch bag back. Somewhere from the other end of the room, amid the surprised hush I heard a small voice say “Who? Me, teacher?”
Satisfied I had made my point, I sat back down and slowly conversation resumed and eventually regained its former decibel level. But the two chastised 8 year olds stayed quiet and minded their P and Qs for the remainder of lunch.
The boy who I had interceded for looked at me and mouthed “Thanks” and I nodded. A female colleague moved closer and said, “Well that was impressive, I wish I could call up that deep voice.”
“Yeah I replied,” finally smiling, “I guess I still have it.”
Teacher voice is a necessary skill for all who seek to instruct children, or teach anyone, for that matter. Every good teacher has one and it is not simply an issue of volume or tenor. It is an attitude that comes through their words and says, “The nonsense is over! I am serious and you don’t want to pursue this behavior any further.” While I employ my “basso profundo” some teachers rely on an even quieter than normal voice to effectively get their point across. As a teacher you use whatever works best for you.
Sometimes I wish I could make my writing echo with my ‘teacher voice’. While reading Joy Resmovits’ recent article about charter schools 1) I had one of those moments. The premise of her article is that despite the fact that charter schools are demonstrably no more effective than public schools 2) some states are rushing pellmell to encourage still more charter school development at the expense of public school.
If I could just stand and say in a clear ‘teacher voice’ that would be heard by all rank and file: “Stop fooling around and get busy working to save public education in the United States! It’s critically important to our collective futures.” I would. All the rancor and greed would dissolve; the politicians posturing to control something they do not understand would stop; the would-be entrepreneurs seeking to recreate public education as a growth industry would shrivel in their seats nodding in temerity and from somewhere a small voice would say, “Who? Me, teacher?”
Yes, all of you.