Things I wish I'd known

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Quiet and deadly beats loud and scary every time, says Sue Cowley

The first term of the year is a long one, and by now you may be croaking like a frog as you put new strains and stresses on your voice. A musician has an instrument to play, and this can be replaced if it gets broken. A teacher only has one voice, and you need to use it every day of your working life, so you must learn how to take care of it.

Do try not to talk too much. It's tempting as a newly qualified teacher to lead your lessons from the front, as this helps you feel in control.

Unfortunately, this puts the maximum strain on your voice. Whenever possible, use strategies that minimise the amount of teacher-talk: group work, individual presentations, worksheets, or asking the children to "be teacher".

Learn to communicate with your class non-verbally. Not only will this save your voice, but it's also an excellent way to improve your classroom management. Your face, and particularly your eyes, can signal a number of things to the children. The deadly stare tells a student, "I suggest that you do what I say otherwise you will suffer in the most horrible way known to humankind". All that without even opening your mouth.

You can also communicate using hand signals; for instance, by clicking to get a student's attention. Alternatively, you might move around, getting close to a child who is misbehaving. The power of doing nothing is often underestimated in the classroom. Simply standing waiting for silence is terrifying at first, but if you hold your nerve it often works.

When you do use your voice, make sure you control the volume and tone.

Consider how loudly you are talking in your lessons, and how loud you actually need to be for your children to hear you. Try to step outside yourself to hear your voice as the children hear it. Are you speaking too loudly, are your emotions coming out in the sound of your voice? If you do find yourself having problems, get expert help: a voice coach will teach you how to use your voice properly.

Drink lots of water, especially during lessons. Tea and coffee might give you the caffeine buzz that you need to keep going, but they dehydrate you.

Above all else, try not to lose control and shout, no matter how much your children wind you up. Shouting simply doesn't work as a control strategy; all it demonstrates is that children can make you lose your temper. Quiet and deadly wins over loud and scary every time.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact: sue@suecowley.co.uk

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