141. The Sound of Insecurity

It occurred to me, after I wrote my previous article, that I’d missed an important reason for teachers to spend too much time talking. I’d focussed on the reason I’d done it as a veteran teacher – enjoyment of the sound of my own voice. That’s a common reason, and it deserves consideration. Children often enjoy the sounds they make, too, and there’s only a certain amount of air molecule vibration that ought to happen simultaneously in a classroom.
But some teachers – especially inexperienced teachers – talk too much for another reason. To the novice, teaching can seem like an overwhelming challenge. There are things we know as adults, and somehow we’re supposed to arrange experiences for children that enable them to know these things. The student teacher, or inexperienced but employed teacher, can be full of self-doubt. Teachers around him/her seem to know what they’re doing, take children’s respect and attention for granted, and spend relaxed time during breaks thinking and talking about their favorite topics, which may or may not have anything to do with teaching.
Meanwhile, the poor inexperienced teacher spends hours planning lessons, examining approaches and trying them out to see what works. What works with other adults is talking. Talking clears up misunderstandings, builds bridges between people, gets things done. It’s natural, in a way, to believe that talking will work with children. And it does. The neophyte often sees his/her mentors seem to accomplish their goals with children by saying things, and naturally deduces that words are the way to do it. If certain words don’t work, other words are tried. Children listen, at first, because that’s what they’re supposed to do.
Then a few children stop listening, because they’ve listened as much as they can. And pretty soon, it seems as if only a few dedicated, patient children are listening. The teacher, still desperately clinging to the possibility that some well-chosen words will do the trick, talks on. And soon it seems as if the real problem is that kids just don’t know how to listen any more. It can be hard to believe that silence can do the job. If children don’t seem to get the point after five different explanations, how can they get it through silence?
But silence is often exactly what is needed. The new teacher may be having brainstorms. Maybe, thinks this teacher, saying it this way will explain it. Maybe that way. And children certainly need to know this tidbit of information. And that one. I understand the problem. I’ve got a lot to say to people who are beginning to work with children, and as a writer, I believe in the power of words. I’ve written thousands of words about working with children. But most of my words are for adults, who are better at paying
attention, and besides, if they get tired of my words, they can put them away. Children often need that freedom, too.

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