meet the teacher who stopped talking

The teacher who stopped talking. I may have a couple of weeks left as a teacher, but that is who I became. When I mean “stopped talking,” I mean it. Complete silence. One day, I was following my normal routine. The next, I only used my voice when absolutely necessary.

Let’s be real: when I decided to undergo this “experiment,” it felt like my last resort. If you know how kids get toward the end of the school year, multiply that antsy yet clueless persona by twelve hundred. Every day, I felt like a powder keg about to explode.

So, I didn’t actually expect anything good to come out of becoming the teacher who stopped talking. I’m simply a volunteer trying to finish out my service unscathed. Never did I think it could be the best idea I’ve stumbled across.

asking for trouble

Here’s the back story, the fateful moments leading to the teacher who stopped talking. Like I mentioned, it was out of complete desperation. There’s probably a good reason why I won’t continue my teaching career.

Education is a far more challenging field than people give it credit for. Then throw in students who can barely understand English, and you’re asking for trouble. Students who already undervalue education because many will likely never leave the island of American Samoa.

Heaven knows how many hours I’ve put in over this calendar year, finding engaging new ideas, basically pulling together a curriculum from scratch for every subject. It’s been a huge undertaking. And as the optimistic person I strive to be, I hope that once I execute my plans, the kids will love it. They’ll understand the lesson content, and we’ll all rejoice with a Hallelujah choir in the back.

Yeah. Not so much. More like I try to explain even the simplest things, let alone an intended assignment or task, and what do I receive? Blank stares. No writing things down, no doing…anything. You cannot help but think, “I put on this whole song-and-dance for you, spent all my free time figuring out how to help you, and you don’t even remember what I taught you yesterday?!”

On top of that, throw in my varying moods between dreary darkness and tense anxiety, and you can find me in the dictionary under “mess.” I get into my classroom fully expecting a mental breakdown within the first hour. The teacher who stopped talking didn’t start off that way. She was provoked. She was tired beyond belief.

the day of

Now we get to good stuff: when this teacher who stopped talking did the thing. The day prior had been very rough. As in, I was about ready to both curl up in a ball sobbing and explode in violent rage.

I greeted the students at the door as usual, but I had already prepared myself with a dry erase board and marker. My note: “Today I’m talking as little as possible. We will see how it goes…” I couldn’t really tell if they believed me, or they even cared, honestly.

For the rest of the day, I carried on the routine as per usual. Just without the whole talking part. I came equipped with a handheld dry erase board and plenty of willpower to mime and point out what I needed to. Any longer explanations, I’d write out. Yes, I taught and reviewed entire concepts without making a peep. The only real questions I asked aloud were if anything needed translation.

So, if anyone questioned whether I’d make a solid Buddhist monk on a silent meditation retreat, well…I could. I found it quite easy to go about my business without talking. One might think a vow of silence would completely disrupt a classroom of ten-year-olds into chaos and confusion. But then you’d be surprised by what actually happened.

pleasantly surprising results

I’m happy to report, as the teacher who stopped talking, that my idea worked better than I had anticipated. There’s still little explanation as to how or why, but silence is now my go-to method of large-group settings.

Perhaps it was partly due to the change of routine, but I immediately noticed the students taking on my muteness. Whenever I was up front writing like a mad-woman, the kids were silent and attentive. They read whatever I “said” quietly to themselves or silently, paying closer notice to my gestures and words. If I was taking the time to write it out, then it’s probably worth noting.

Sure, you still have the kids that are completely dazed out. Doesn’t matter what I do, aloud or not; they’ll still lack motivation. What I can do is jostle them a tad by getting real close and acting brashly. Not only does that save me from bursting into flames, but it also proves more effective in keeping the whole class running smoothly.

I appreciate not busting my chops on anger and frustration, and so does everyone else. Kids who had never really responded all year became noticeably more proactive in their work. I received more hugs at the end of the day than I ever have. I didn’t deal with disruptions because I wasn’t trying to speak. Overall, my class displayed much better behavior every step of the way. I can only give credit to my vow of silence because that’s the only change I’ve made.

Sure, there’s all the classroom benefits, but becoming the teacher who stopped talking has helped me tremendously, too. This year has truly challenged my mental health and the illnesses I bear. When my mood swings back and forth every week from frantic anxiety to tiring depression, the kids feed on it and act accordingly. It sounds sad, but verbal communication during my worst moments proves quite difficult for me. Especially for a job that involves a lot of discussion.

As I finish up my service, not talking has become a saving grace to power through. The “end-of-school fever” is upon us, and rather than having a mental breakdown over the collective carelessness, I can conserve my energy and save my day from complete demise. I don’t end the day like a dying ember. There’s still a little spark left, enough to take care of myself.

should you be the teacher who stopped talking?

It’s a radical experiment, and if you’re down to be that wacky teacher who stopped talking, I say, why not? Especially as the school year winds down, routines start to feel old and tedious, it could be a stark change to everyone’s systems. Enough to kick some patooties in gear and finish strong.

Not all education should become silent. To keep this scenario going all year would likely be impossible. But for a short period, it’s an unconventional lesson in actions speaking louder than words and really considering your words before saying them. You’re also challenging students with a new learning style and the subtle yet effective power of nonverbal communication.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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I'm no longer vegan.

16th May 2019

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