Heather Wolpert-Gawron

When you Can’t Talk, You Can Still Teach

By on September 12, 2009

So in my semi-annual tradition, I’ve already lost my voice. Now, I’m not talking about still whispering here. I’m talking about a totally stripped, honk-when-I-try-to-produce-sound lost voice. It happens to me 2-3 times a year and I’m starting to think its related to my air conditioner in my classroom. But I digress.

This post isn’t about lemons. It’s about lemonade. In fact, it’s about an Arnold Palmer.

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

In fact, sometimes, these days become really fun and really rigorous for the students. First off, it forces me to get creative.

When my class walked in 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 (an index card with a Golden Line from their current reading book, see my previous post here), fold it, and put it in the Golden Line Jar.

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

I stood by the door like Julie McCoy, Your Cruise Director, pointing silently with my voice, but 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 by-gone day-camp activity (but quite useful for reasons such as these) I spell out who should get the journals and Works In Progress folders from the cabinets. It goes something like this: I put up three fingers. Some kids shuts up the students and the “shushes” begin. Then another student catches on. “W!” she yells. Now the kids are in on the game. I hold up my hand in the sign of an “A” (a sign I learned from Helen Hunt and a chimp in the prolific movie “Project X“) “A!” another kid screams. I sign “T,” and it too is yelled out. It doesn’t take long for a kid to yell out “Watson!” and as was my intention, all the “Watsons” from the table groups stand up and get the materials. (See my earlier post on table grouping here.)

I then sat quietly in the front of the room with great drama and flourish and proceeded to type on my computer that was hooked up to my LCD projector so that they all could see.

I would type 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 our 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 under the table.

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

The class pretty much then happens as any other class does. I type directions, they follow them. I’m still monitoring and showing them I still have classroom management, they are actually focused and can’t wait to see what I have to type. For instance,

OK, some authors are inspired by a character. 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 out please. As I was saying, let’s pull out a Hook from a professional writer 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.

Teach your kids with a smile and they’ll want to be the first ones in the room. Teach your kids with a smile and they’ll help you with the classroom management, taking ownership of their own learning and their learning environment. Teach your kids to make the best out of any situation and you will have taught them a lesson greater than the one dictated by the standards.

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