Talking shop;Problems

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you

Q. I am used to having observers in my classroom and usually find the feedback helpful. A criticism has been that my voice is too harsh and rises in pitch occasionally. I am unaware of this happening and don't know how to control it. Can you help?

A. Your voice is your most valuable and versatile teaching tool. Its tone can carry messages of expectation and intent. Pupils respond to it by their actions and attitudes.

It's possible that you are unaware of changes in your voice because of hearing problems, so you must get that tested as soon as possible. When you do, mention your profession and ask for advice and voice training. You could be referred to the occupational health service. It might also be worth contacting the Royal National Institute for Deaf People which will advise you on your special circumstances.

Another possibility is that you have, over time, slipped into "bad" voice habits. Try analysing when and how your voice changes during a lesson and what the triggers are. Ask for a supportive observer to monitor some lessons for you with that specific focus. Look at the results together to see what patterns emerge. It wouldn't be surprising if the trigger was a behavioural or a control issue and the rise in anxiety levels are showing in your voice.

Do two things. When you recognise the situation, use a more appropriate tone of voice, and improve any aspects of class organisation that need it. You could get the children to help you by being honest with them about the problem and asking them to make a sign such as raising their arm or touching their ear when your voice is too harsh. Remember, your voice is a powerful instrument, so you must practice using it and looking after it.

Q. I have been employed as a civil servant for 20 years and now have all the qualifications necessary to enter a post-graduate certificate in education course and have secured a university place for September.

I am, however, very concerned to read that many older newly qualified teachers remain unemployed after training. Should I resign my job? Should I try and find part-time employment while I train? Finally, do you think that headteachers would prefer to have a young NQT rather than a mature, expensive NQT?

A. I can appreciate what a difficult time this must be for you. There are so many important factors to take into account when contemplating a career change and I hope you have taken advantage of the career advice provided by the college and from the Teacher Training Agency. I wonder if you've considered the graduate and registered teachers' programme, whereby candidates are employed by a school and receive training on the job? There aren't many around but it could be worth pursuing with some nearby schools.

The disconcerting thing about long-term plans for career development is that, as soon as they become short-term and choices have to be made, things can look very different. All the decisions you have to make rest on the degree to which you are determined to become a teacher and the value you place on that role in society. If you believe that it is one of the most important jobs anyone can do, if you want to help children believe in themselves and love learning, then the rest follows. This path will incur taking some risks. To follow it, you will have to resign and you might well have to find part time work to survive the next year.

It cannot be denied that some schools prefer to hire young teachers who can be moulded to fit their ways. As to the cost of employing you, many schools are heavily constrained by their budgets, but some are less so. You need to show that you would give value for money in terms of the quality of your teaching. If, on the other hand, you want to teach because you think it's well paid or easier than your present job, then stay where you are.

Q. I have planned my first educational visit but am concerned about the behaviour of some of the parents who want to accompany us. The teacher from last year's visit told me that these particular parents spent the afternoon with their children in a pub garden. How can I stop this from happening again?

A. Make it very clear what the purpose of the visit is and that, although it is going to be fun, the word "educational" means that learning is the focus. Organise pupils so each adult is responsible for a small number of children, but all under your supervision. If some parents haven't done this before, partner them with an experienced parent. Let everyone know what is expected and what is not. If anyone can't keep to the rules, they can't go. If needs be, speak directly to those parents. Suggest your school develops a "visits" policy. Finally, have fun - but no alcohol!

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