The power of talking with (not at).

Deborah Meier:

"There's too often a very off-putting kindergarten teacher's voice, and so on all the way through the grades. I catch myself speaking that way on occasion. What would schools be like, I imagine, if we learned to use our conversational adult voice within its four walls. It might immediately remind us that we are keeping company with kids, not lecturing at them. It might also suggest to them that they might speak to us in the same way. After all, our way of talking, arguing, persuading, and thinking aloud are, however unintentional, models for those we share the space with. How might we, in short, create for the young settings in which they learn how to join us in the adult world?"

A student critiqued my discipline style this week: "Is that how you yell? It's not very scary. I think you should yell louder when you get mad."

I wasn't trying to yell, but clearly the student (and I doubt he's alone) has certain expectations for how he'll be talked at by teachers. I'm pretty laid back to begin with, but I try hard to not let those moments of frustration lead me into moments I'll regret. I'm not an authoritarian. I tried it out for awhile when I first started teaching but it didn't agree with me. I just ended up feeling like a jerk. And my students, though perhaps quieter, were more distant and no more engaged in their learning.

As my authoritarian regime failed, I began focusing on engagement. If students are engaged and interested in what they're doing, they're not going to be planning a coup d'etat. Too often teachers are only interested in keeping their students quiet and looking industrious. Learning in real life is usually loud, awkward, messy, and full of failed attempts. I'm still not very good at incorporating authentic real life learning in my classroom, but when I get do it's full of beauty, relationships, and often complaints from teachers in rooms neighboring yours that your class was making an ungodly amount of noise. They couldn't be further from the truth.
Quotes from Bridging Differences: Keeping Company With Kids, Not Lecturing at Them