On Yelling

You know, for as loud as I can be, I very rarely raise my voice. I’m naturally noisy, and my voice carries. Also, when I teach or speak publicly, I project from my diaphragm. I learned quickly that teaching is much more about speaking forcefully and being heard clearly than about just being loud.

The only time I can think that I yell is when I’m with my family and everyone is two feet from each other yelling happily.

With my students, only twice in the last few months have I really felt the need to lay down the law in class (and not privately). Their level of English isn’t high enough for an in depth conversation one on one, but there are certain things it would be foolish to tolerate.

Case in point, a few weeks ago, a (very strong) student went snooping through the stuff I keep on my desk. She was, weirdly, looking at the attendance, even though she didn’t know what it was with its odd notations.

If you let students rifle through your private space, you’re a buddy, not a teacher. And I really like this student, but I had to say, essentially, that is not okay. I didn’t raise my voice, but I held my voice firm and kept my gaze fixed on her. The tone of my speech was the key. The usual humor dropped out and she understood I was serious.

Tone is key.

The other time was today. There is another strong student who has serious attitude issues. Nothing violent, and she does all her homework, but she’s impudent and childish. I’ve let it slide because it’s not thaaat big a deal, but she makes audible comments about me in Mandarin and the other students refuse to rat her out for what must be rude stuff. This undermines your respect in the classroom.

And today, we were reviewing some adjectives and we landed on pregnant. As she tends to, she pointed at me and giggled, which, again, would be harmless if it wasn’t a pattern. I’m perceptive enough to know that there’s a sharp edge to the way she teases. My class and I poke fun at each other, but it’s obvious that it’s innocuous and her comments aren’t.

So, the tone switched, eyes fixed, and I told her she had to cut it out.

She went to her normal response, a nasty comment in Mandarin, and I said that that had to stop too. She tried one more time but that was it.

Everything was fine five minutes later, after a bit of silence. I know if I had yelled it would have been worse because I would have come off angry. And I remember from my own schooling that whenever I was called out in front of the class by the teacher it shut me right the hell up.

So to me, tone and focus is far more effective than yelling, especially if it’s an attitude issue or a minor transgression.


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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality