Substitute Teacher Voice
When Jennifer Muffet was a little girl, her mother used to look at her with a loving smile and say, “Speak up, Jennifer, you’re such a smart girl. Nobody will be able to hear how smart you are!”
Jennifer would try, but the truth was she had a really soft voice.
The years passed, and Jennifer became a well-respected and very effective first-grade teacher. But her quiet voice remained.
“How do you get the kids to listen when they’re noisy?” asked a colleague. “Your voice is so soft. I can’t understand how they hear you.”
“So you want to know my secret?” asked Jennifer in a voice that was barely above a whisper. She knew that her “secret” worked. All of the parents at Palm Grove School spoke highly of her, and the students adored her. She ran an orderly and calm classroom that was very conducive to learning.
Her colleague nodded.
“It’s simple,” said Jennifer. “At first I tried to raise my voice, but that was hopeless.” She laughed. “So I tried an experiment.”
“You screamed!” joked the colleague.
“No, actually the louder the children became, the softer I spoke. I would pause and say absolutely nothing. When they began to notice that I was waiting, I’d speak in a very soft voice. The children had to strain to hear me. If a few students were noisy, the others would ‘shhhh’ them so that they could hear what I was saying.”
“But what if they didn’t settle down?” asked the colleague, somewhat taken back by Jennifer’s tactics.
“I’d stand in front of the class with my ‘I’m waiting’ look,” Jennifer demonstrated for her friend. “The class would quiet down. And once they were quiet, I would continue to wait, for effect. When I finally spoke, I would calmly say, ‘Thank you boys and girls.’ You could hear a pin drop!”
I try to emphasize how important it is to project confidence and control when you stand in front of a classroom. Some teachers erroneously assume that speaking in an overpoweringly loud voice will somehow indicate that they have confidence. As the story of Jennifer Muffet indicates, sometimes less is more.
Jennifer and I taught the same grade level together for years. Every time we combined classes for a special event, I was amazed at her classroom management skills. She never, and I mean never, raised her voice. When she needed to get her students’ attention, she would turn off the lights or give a hand signal. These routines were well-rehearsed during the first few weeks of school.
Years later, Jennifer went on to become the president of the local teachers’ organization where she spoke regularly in front of large groups of teachers and administrators. She always used the same technique—a long pause at the start of her presentation, followed by the use of a soft, but animated, voice. Everyone listened with great interest. Like her students, she had them in the palm of her hand!
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