Those Who Teach, Don't Need to Talk

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It’s a semi-annual teaching tradition. I’ve lost my voice. Now, I’m not talking about still being able to whisper. I’m talking about a totally stripped, honk-when-I-try-to-produce-sound lost voice. It happens to me several times a year, and I’m starting to think it’s related to the air conditioner in my Southern California classroom. But I digress.

This article isn’t about lemons. It’s about lemonade.

On those days when I’ve totally lost my voice, I still teach. Yes, it’s true that it feels like someone has taken the hammer from my toolbox and then asked me to pound in a nail. But there are ways around losing your hammer.

In fact, the infrequent days when I’m on mute can be really fun and rigorous for the students. First off, it forces me to get creative.

When students walked into my class on Thursday, there was a large sign outside my door asking them to do the following:

1. Line up at the door

2. Take out your Hook Card, fold it, and put it in the Golden Line Jar. [This is an index card with an attention-grabbing "Golden Line" they’ve selected from their current reading book; see my related blog post]

3. If you don’t have your card, write your name on the clipboard.

I stood by the door like Julie McCoy, your Love Boat cruise director, pointing loudly with my eyebrows. The kids, normally a rambunctious “I got here first!” kinda group, quietly filed in and took their seats. Homework collected: check.

In the front of the room, using a combination of dramatic mime and sign language hastily remembered from some bygone day camp activity (but quite useful in such situations as this), I spelled out who should get the journals and Works In Progress folders from the cabinets. It went something like this:

I put up three fingers. Some kids noticed and the “shushes” began. Then a student caught on. “W!” she yelled. Now the kids were in on the game. I held two fingers upside down and crossed them with another (a sign I learned from Helen Hunt and a chimp in the movie Project X). “A!” another kid screamed. I signed “T,” and it too was yelled out. It didn’t take long for a kid to call out “Watson!” All the students who belong to my “Watson” table group stood up and got the materials. (See my blog post on table grouping.)

I then sat quietly in the front of the room with great drama and flourish and proceeded to type on my computer, which was hooked up to my LCD projector so that everyone could see what I wrote. I typed things like…

OK, I’ve lost my voice. But this does not mean this is a recess period. Please take out Rough Drafts of your latest Narrative. Stick out your tongue if you’ve read this direction.

It is the funniest thing to watch kids read intently, only to be caught off guard. Within seconds, I have an entire class of middle schoolers sticking out their tongues at me.

If the person next to you has yet to read these directions, kick them gently under the table.

This is generally followed by one or two yelps, a “dude!,” and the corresponding, “Read the directions, man!”

From this point forward, the class pretty much unfolded as it would on any day. I typed directions, they followed them. I’m still monitoring and demonstrating to them that I have a firm grip on classroom management. They are actually very focused and can’t wait to see what I might type next. For instance:

OK, some authors are inspired to write by a character they want to create. We’ll work on that next week. Some authors are inspired by themes, a moral, a message that they need, must, just HAVE TO get out there to their readers. But some are inspired by Hooks. Jose, go throw that gum out please. As I was saying, let’s pull out a professional writer’s Hook from our jar and begin a narrative using that Hook. …

Teaching doesn’t require volume. Classroom management doesn’t require yelling. Being in control is about humor, it’s about having your antennae up, and it’s about being creative enough to make every moment valuable.

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