I was volunteering in my daughter’s first grade classroom today and ended up being left alone in the room for a while when the class went to the computer lab. In the silence of their classroom, I could hear the teacher next door through the wall. I kid you not when I say that EVERY.SINGLE.WORD that came out of her mouth sounded irritated / mean / nasty / rude.
It really made me think about how big of an impact our tone has when it comes to our classroom. This woman’s tone had to have been impacting her students in a negative way. I felt terrible and I was through a wall! I couldn’t tell you what her classroom (or she) looked like, but I can tell you that there is no way her students can enjoy school. This is a first grade classroom too, which really broke my heart.
Let me give you an example of something I heard today and how it could have come across a lot differently. This teacher was passing out papers to her class (I could seriously hear everything through the wall) and didn’t want them to mark on them yet. The first words out of her mouth were, “DO NOT…. DO NOT…. I REPEAT DO NOT MARK ON THIS. DO NOT MARK ON THIS!” in quite the irritated tone. I should add that this was at 9:15 in the morning – less than a half hour after the school day started.
I volunteer in my daughter’s class once a week. There are 28 students in her class. I totally understand that teaching elementary school is stressful and almost 30 six year olds can make you want to cry. BUT, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be talked to in a respectful tone. Instead of her demanding, negative tone, she could have possibly said, “Please leave your pencils on your desk so you don’t accidentally mark on your papers yet. I want to be sure you all hear the directions before we start. Thank you for following my directions!” Or something along those lines….
I think teachers often forget about how much control they have. They have control over almost every single thing in their room. As a teacher, you control the way your classroom looks, smells (ok sometimes the kids control that one), feels. You control the way your student see you and the way they feel about your class/subject/grade level. If you bring a positive, caring attitude to your classroom each and every day, your students are going to respond to that. If you bring a negative, “I hate the world” attitude to class every day, your student are going to respond to that too.
ALL children, regardless of their age, have the desire to please. They want to make you happy. They want you to like them. They want you to see how smart they are. If you are constantly approaching their classmates with negativity, you are going to slowly kill that desire. Your students are going to resent you and eventually, resent school.
When my daughter’s class returned to their room, her teacher pulled a small group for reading. One little boy started to cry each time he was frustrated with a word. The teacher could have done many things, including yell at him (which the teacher next door did when a child cried), argued with him, or supported him. I’m so happy my daughter has this teacher, because she opted to support him. She asked him why he was crying and explained to him multiple times exactly WHY she needed him to try. She told him she couldn’t help him if she wasn’t able to hear his mistakes. She asked him what was the absolute WORST thing that would happen if he said a word wrong? Would she “turn into a hairy blue monster and jump up on the desks and dance around” or just ask him to sound out the word more carefully? She made him not only aware of his choices, but what HER choice would be when he had a problem. She was calm, caring and sincere.
So today, I want you to pay special attention to your tone in your classroom. Observe the way you speak to your best behaved student and the worst behaved. How do you speak to other teachers? To parents? While yes, it is absolutely necessary to be stern and strong, it is never necessary to be nasty. You never know who is listening through the wall.