Advice from Dr. David Sparks: “Confidence, Teacher Voice, and a Sacred Quest”

David Sparks
Dr. David Sparks, Assistant Professor of Science Education and Faculty in the UTeach program at The University of Texas at Arlington, shares advice.

Confidence, Teacher Voice, and a Sacred Quest

“My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come, when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of Fellowship, but it is not this day!”

~Aragorn, from The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Something that I notice quite often in new or developing teachers is a certain timidity that comes with their solo introduction to the classroom. It is the much-needed ability to square up the challenge and walk into any classroom confident and bold. In the case of teaching, you are not fighting Orcs, but the battle is for your classroom. Many teachers believe that size matters; you have to be a big 6’ 2” teacher with a booming voice and a scary gaze to take control of a classroom. But that is not the case. I have seen female teachers who are barely 5 ft tall stare down huge football players. I have also seen larger teachers that have been completely run over by the students. New teachers must show more confidence and grow their ability to take ownership of their classrooms.

But that is the paradox: With experience comes confidence and experience takes time (possibly years). I have a word of advice for you: Fake it until you make it! Just as a wild animal might sense fear, some students are looking for a weakness to attack and many teachers let their guard down much too fast. I do not subscribe to the adage “Don’t smile until Christmas.” However, I believe you have to be stricter at the beginning of the year. You have to let them know that in the classroom it is all business. That does not mean that you can’t have a sense of humor and joke with the students occasionally. But it does mean that they need to know when you “mean business.” That brings me to teacher voice.

You must project your speaking voice to the back of the room. A good teacher voice is somewhere between a natural speaking level and a yell. The best way to describe it is like carrying on a conversation in a crowded restaurant. It is something all new teachers have to develop. It takes practice and I suggest asking for outside evaluations of your teacher voice from fellow teachers, principals, and even a couple of students that you trust. Mix in a dash of politeness after getting their attention and you have a recipe for an effective and well-structured classroom.

Do not beg for their attention but let them know that you “need it.” It might go something like this: “Class I need your attention…eyes on me……(prolonged silence)…Table 3 I need to see your eyes….(more awkward silence)…Great. Thank for your attention. We need to discuss your group work.

What is the sacred quest? It is the sense that you have ownership in that classroom. It is your classroom, but you must build a culture of we. The students need to be proud to be on your team, respectful to you and to their fellow students, and understand that you are in control. It does not take yelling or a heavy-handed authoritarian approach. But it does take bold confidence and a measure of respect that goes both ways.

Carry on Mr. Frodo. Your quest awaits.

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