Can you hear me at the back?

8th June 2012 at 01:00

Teaching requires a hefty amount of acting. That is not a novel observation by any means, but it is true. Teaching is a performance art: it involves captivating an audience and projecting a character.

Sometimes teachers need to feign robotic calm, when on the inside they are seething, while a cheery staff member must suddenly put their mean face on to stop the boys running in the corridor.

However, the most striking parallel between teachers and actors is that both need to be heard at the back of the room. Their voices are their main tool, and they will be judged not just on what they say, but on how they say it.

If they talk in a dull monotone, the audience will nod off. And if their voice does not seem to fit the character they are playing, the audience will not believe them. You may think you are behaviour management's answer to the Wicked Witch of the West, but any threat will evaporate if you mumble like the Cowardly Lion or yap like Toto.

In this light, the call by the government's behaviour tsar Charlie Taylor for teachers to have extra help on how to control the pitch and tone of their voices is welcome. Many methods exist - some borrowed directly from the theatre world - to help school staff master this. Taylor has drawn specific attention to the "five voices" approach, which is explored in this issue (pages 4-7).

However, voice control should not just be seen as a weapon against poor discipline, or even simply as a tool for making teaching more effective; it must also be encouraged to protect teachers from one of the greatest work-related risks their job poses to their health: that they will strain their vocal cords. Nearly seven in 10 primary teachers have reported voice problems.

Given all these reasons, it is worth taking to heart the words of the Divine Comedy (the band, rather than the book): "Fate does not hang on a wrong or right choice. Fortune depends on the tone of your voice."

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw.

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