140. The Teacher’s Voice

Throughout my teaching career, I had strengths and weaknesses. In this article, I’ll focus on one of my weaknesses. I liked the sound of my own voice, and since I was the one who decided who had permission to talk, I talked a lot. Some of what I said was quite worthwhile – a lot of it – and I said it effectively, but I talked too much.
This made it so that I had to work harder to keep children’s attention. And in the thick of battle, I sometimes thought the children had the problem. Sometimes, of course, it actually was their problem; I was saying things they ought to have heard, and they needed to learn to listen better.
But now, observing other teachers at work, I realize that some of the best teachers don’t seem to say much. They know what they need to say, and they say it. Then they get children to talk, or they move around the room while children work, and perhaps converse with individual
children. If you walk by these classrooms, you don’t hear the teacher’s voice much. In fact, you may even walk into the classroom and wonder where the teacher is. Most children (and most adults) don’t like to spend much time listening to other people’s explanations. Once in a while, a topic will capture children’s imaginations, and thereby, capture their attention. But that is the exception. If a teacher has to keep stopping to remind children to pay attention, it’s likely that that teacher is talking too much.
Why does this happen? Well, as one teacher who has talked too much, I can give you my take on the problem. I often knew what I wanted children to learn, and telling them seemed like an efficient way to make that happen. This is often false, but it usually seemed true. And since, as I said, I liked the sound of my own voice, I got some pleasure out of talking, whether or not children heard what I was saying. To some degree, I got better and better at holding children’s attention rather than working to need less of their attention.
I’m not condemning myself. Nor am I condemning other teachers who talk a lot. Excessive talking is only one problem, and all of the best teachers I know (myself included) have problems. But it’s important to recognize it as a problem and work on it. We’ve got to become more efficient with our words, so that we don’t waste children’s attention, and so that there’s plenty of time left to hear what the children say, or to let them think.

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