I have this metal cart thingamajig I use as my lectern when I’m teaching because it easily holds my notes and my big, fat literature book.
I’ve got it organized with easy-access hall passes, extra pens and Expo markers, and an occasional snack for sixth period when my turkey sandwich from lunch has run out. A long time ago, I started slapping stickers on it that display my adventures and interests.
Several years back, a student came to class with a sticker in hand, hoping to add it to the collection. It said, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” We bantered back and forth about the sticker’s worthiness of a coveted spot on the thingamajig. His argument was that it mirrored my plentiful sentiments in class — abundant shushes and numerous “Be quiets.” Aghast at his implication that I was old, I adamantly refused residence for the sticker on my precious make-shift lectern.
There was another reason why I didn’t want the proclamatory sticker on my cart. I felt ashamed. Was I really known as a teacher who constantly sounded like a tire losing air? Were those the words I wanted to be known for — “Class, be quiet”?
That was many years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher under the impression that to be considered a good teacher, my room had to be quiet. I guess I learned in Teacher School that a still classroom meant teaching and learning was happening. But the tutelage of real life has taught quite a different lesson. As I’ve matured both personally and professionally, I have learned the importance of talk in the classroom. Now, quite the opposite of that sticker is true, and I’m happy to say my classroom is a boisterous bustle of chatter, and I’m very comfortable in the volume.
I have a kindred spirit across town who also values the place talk has within the classroom. Mr. Cobis at Northside High teaches kids who many would think are vastly different from the ones I teach at Jordan. But he and I are of the same understanding — all kids want to be heard. It doesn’t matter if they have two parents in the home or not. Makes no nevermind if the kid drives a new Mazda to school or rides a big yellow school bus, he wants someone to listen and value what he has to say.
My friend, Mr. Cobis, says, “Upon visiting my class, the casual observer might conclude that nothing happens and all they do is talk, but if one watches closely and listens attentively, they will perceive that the students are generally engaged, attentive and relaxed.” I like that word relaxed. I have learned through the years that silencing my students’ voices was, in a way, a loud proclamation that what they had to say didn’t matter, and my voice was the only one worthy to be heard. But when a child feels relaxed enough to speak, that’s a classroom atmosphere where true teaching and learning is happening.
Talking students instills a sort of confidence that will become vital in sustaining our future. “The talk some may dismiss,” Cobis says, “is actually lively, involved conversation that leads students to insights, and I am merely their conductor. At the outset of the year, what resembles the cacophonous warm-up of a middle school band transfigures into a second semester symphony.”
And that conversation is definitely music to this teacher’s ears. (I’m so glad I don’t have that sticker on my thingamajig.)