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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Comments

  1. Robyn's online world
    September 12, 2009

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    Great ideas. Even thou just have one student, my teen son, I think I could use these ideas just for a change of pace

  2. tweenteacher
    September 12, 2009

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    Absolutely right. Check out Judy Willis’ research on tween and teen brain development and how keeping them guessing, surprises, spontaneity, and shaking it up a little always keeps them engaged. This leads to information being embedded more frequently into long-term memory. Thanks for the comment and the tweets!
    -Heather

  3. Nancy Flanagan
    September 12, 2009

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    Early-in-the-year laryngitis has been a traditional hassle for me, too. Imagine having zero voice in front of 65 middle schoolers holding musical instruments…

    Actually, I am amazed at how good my students were when I couldn’t talk to them. It shifts their perception habits toward the visual. For kids who depend on someone telling them how to do something, they’re interpreting it through sight. It makes them more aware of subtle cues that they normally ignore in a loud, directed world.

  4. tweenteacher
    September 12, 2009

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    I agree, Nancy. It’s just another way to throw in another modality. I’ve been tempted in the past to just do it as if I couldn’t talk, but I also think it words because the students are authentically taking care of me, their class, and each other. Thanks for the comment, as always.
    -Heather

  5. tweenteacher
    September 12, 2009

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    I could probably learn from both of you. Thanks so much for your comment.
    -Heather

  6. Manda
    September 13, 2009

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    I’ve done the same thing with the computer and projector WAY too many times to count! This is my 6th year teaching, but it’s the first year I haven’t lost my voice during the first week!

    Classroom management problems cease to exist when I’m “slightly-sick,” too. You know, those days when you feel stupid for calling in sick, but you’re really not well enough to be teaching 32 thirteen-year-olds about logical fallacies. All I have to do is post a note saying “I’ll keep my germs to myself as long as possible, but if you fool around I’ll have to come to your desk to figure out what’s going on.”

    • heather
      September 13, 2009

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      I am totally going to use your “germs” line! Thanks so much for sharing. Check in again!
      -Heather
      aka Tweenteacher

    • Jodi
      October 1, 2009

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      Manda, I agree with what you said about students’ behavior when you are sick. I’ve been teaching for nine years, and find myself coming to work “slightly-sick” several times a year. I always find that they almost feel sorry for me and sympathize with my state of weakness. It’s nice to know that on those days when I can barely imagine mustering up the energy for discipline, that I wont have to.

  7. Karen Gawron
    September 13, 2009

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    Losing my voice has happened only once, my first year of teaching. It was 3rd grade. I recall a lot of writing directions on the board and pointing. For the non-readers (sometimes still happens in 3rd grade), volunteers were directed to read and reread for the whole class. Management still happens. Students still needed the teacher to maintain structure and control. Lots of dramatic looks, gestures, and neck jerks.
    P.S. Love the updated website. Looks great!

    • heather
      September 13, 2009

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      I know. We get really good at the art of the eyebrow-speak. Non-readers also happen in middle school (sadly) but I also use many icons and symbols. It’s actually a great way to teach symbolism. Also, check out that Edutopia link from the post for great tips on why sign language in the classroom is a very useful tool. I’ve used it in the past for kids to ask for water, bathroom, show confusion, etc…in a non-distracting way. Thanks for commenting, Karen!
      -Heather
      aka Tweenteacher

  8. mrC
    September 21, 2009

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    Years ago, one of my classes thought I had been mean to them (they were a little sensitive), and they decided one day to give me the silent treatment. They refused to talk during the entire period; they help up little signs when they had questions or comments. I told them it was one of the most relaxing periods I’d ever had. The next day I went silent on them. I just pointed at directions on the overhead (my only tech at the time) or at the clock, or waved the book around. I also did a lot of pantomiming, and eyebrow raising, and other such shtuff. The funny part was that they all thought I was so mad at them I couldn’t speak. They thought I was going to snap at any moment and, I don’t know, do them bodily harm or something. 😉

    Great ideas. I’m ready to go silent again. Thanks.

    • Tweenteacher
      September 22, 2009

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      Using visual cues rather than auditory ones is a great way to mix up what you’re asking them to do. They end up more engaged in the “what’s-he-going-to-do-next?” sort of way. It’s great to be a teacher that keeps them on their toes not out of fear but out of mere, “anything could happen here” excitement. Thanks for your comment!
      -Heather
      aka Tweenteacher

  9. Amber
    September 22, 2009

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    This CRACKED me up… I teach 6th graders and wow, is everything you said TRUE! What is even more funny is that I JUST lost my voice due to a mild bout of the flu… Can’t wait to try and use some of these techniques.

    I actually laughed out loud at the part where you had to type, “Jose, throw that away…” ONLY A TEACHER CAN RELATE!

    • Tweenteacher
      September 22, 2009

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      Report back how it all goes! Thanks for checking in and commenting. Hope to hear from you again.
      -Heather
      aka Tweenteacher

  10. tweenteacher
    October 2, 2009

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    Well said, Jodi!
    Their respect for you and the support that you give them sometimes comes in the least likely of times. Thanks for commenting. Check in again!
    -Heather WG
    aka Tweenteacher

  11. julie
    October 3, 2009

    Leave a Reply

    OK, I’m dying laughing! I just moved into a new school with computer-projector capability. I teach 6th graders, and I can hardly wait until I lose my voice this year (it is inevitable).

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