My mother is an extraordinary person. Yesterday, while I made lunch for my son, father, and her, she was playing her weekly game of tennis – at age 90 – for an hour and a half. Two days previously she had hosted 6 for dinner. She is a force of nature.
As with all such vital people, she has strong opinions. Indeed, one of the time-honored family traditions is to discuss and argue the issues of the day over meals. Naturally, when I am around, discussion often turns to education.
My mother was shocked and irritated to learn that teachers do not have to take voice lessons to become teachers. “How in the world can you engage young kids and make the teaching clear without having a trained voice?”
This query does not come from ignorance. My mother took acting lessons back in the day from the great Stella Adler and Stage Voice lessons from her colleagues. My mother’s strong New York accent was eradicated in one year; she still commands a room. My 95-year-old step dad chimed in: he had taken voice lessons in preparation for his work in the Foreign Service, eradicating a too-nasal style of speaking.
Furthermore, my mother recounted that, at Queens College back in the day – a College founded out of a speech pathology school – every student had a pre- and post-assessment in which their voice was recorded when they entered college and just before they graduated – the same speaking test (the reading of a famous poem).
Odd, isn’t it? We relegate speech, debate, and such performances to the minor ranks of goals, courses, and assessments in public schools as well as in teacher preparation. (I know that Waldorf teachers often get voice lessons, as do Phys. Ed. teachers in some programs.) Yet, there is arguably no more crucial ability (whether in teaching or the adult workplace generally) for distinguishing oneself as competent and for having an impact in an organization.
I have been in a bunch of classrooms, over decades. I can count on one hand the number of teachers who commanded a room based on their voice. In some cases it is embarrassing: many teachers have nasal and monotonic teacher voices that actually make learning much harder than it needs to be. Few teachers use silence, modulation and pacing effectively. Yet, when you come across such a teacher they command great attention, focus, respect – and often cause greater achievement than their colleagues because they communicate so effectively.
There are speaking (and listening) standards in the Common Core. Isn’t it about time we took seriously our obligations as educators to – literally – give our students voice – and to help our teachers develop a more effective voice?
Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day to all moms, including mine! Thanks for giving me (and educators) voice.
Does your school or did your teacher prep program do something interesting about voice? Let us know in the comments.