Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Noisy Children: What's a Teacher to Do?

I don't know how I ever ended up becoming a teacher and how I lasted these nearly 26 years because I have a serious problem with noise.  (And yes, I HAVE been that teacher who has given one warning too many and then had children sit in silence all the way home on the bus from the field trip.)

Speaking from some experience (but not necessarily from a high degree of success), here are my suggestions on the noise-front for those of you who feel my pain yet have no way to combat the rising tension as the noise level in the classroom escalates to new and unexpectedly shrill volumes as it inevitably does.  Every. Single. Day.

1. Practice deep breathing.  I can't stress this one enough.  Since I've started meditation (mediTation not mediCation), I am a much better teacher.  "Oh," I notice to myself, "the students are yelling again."  Then I smile and breathe some more.  Sometimes I breathe very deeply and very heavily.

2.  Buy one of those shop bells that a customer rings when there is no one at the front counter.  I have one on my desk and one at the front of my classroom.  When I need the class to freeze (or shut up), I ring the bell: my own shrill reminder of their own vociferousness.  It quiets things down.  For at least 30 seconds anyway.

3. I occasionally succumb to "feel sorry for me" moments (or even days) where I say, "Ms. Rempel has a really bad headache today so I'm going to ask you to be particularly kind and just whisper.  Then Ms. Rempel won't have to yell at you and then everyone will be happy."  Sometimes it works.  Don't overuse it, though, or it will completely lose its power.

4. Remind your students that you signed on to become a teacher, not a police officer.  Sometimes it's hard for them to tell the difference.  Sometimes it's hard for me to, as well.  If you play police officer for five or 10 minutes, they usually get the picture.  I don't have a uniform or anything, but that might help.

5. Keep a stash of Advil handy.  And earplugs.

6. Don't take it personally.  Unless you're a substitute teacher or particularly unlikable (which I most certainly am not), students aren't being noisy just to annoy you: it's just who they are.  It's their job to be noisy just like it's your job to get them to zip it up. It completes the circle.

7. Ask yourself, "Is it productive noise?"  Let's face it, noise is necessary.  If kids are going to investigate and inquire and learn, they need to talk.  If they're not talking about who they've got a crush on or about the Rudolph-like pimple on your nose, then you may just need to let it go. I find if I'm inquiring with them, I'm not nearly as bothered by the noise.  So get involved (it's your job, after all), and think of it as the sweet sound of learning instead of chaotic anarchy.

I've got nothing else, folks.  Teaching and learning is noisy and messy and completely unpredictable.  Just go with it.  Or get out of the business.  I'm sure there's a cubicle waiting for you somewhere, if you want to find one badly enough.  I think I've already made my decision.

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