Growing up in a conservative town, the school I attended had many old-school teachers who had been teaching at that same school for decades. They believed in the completely inaccurate and horrific old adage of, Children should be seen and not heard. My teachers trained me to raise my hand when I had something to say. If students shouted out in the classroom, they were sent out of the room, lectured at, beat with a ruler, or sent to the principal’s office. I learned that the safest way to make it through a school day was to just be quiet. I rarely spoke in class because of this model of education. Even now, in faculty meetings, when I have something to say, I raise my hand rather than just speak out. Old habits die hard.
Because of my life experiences, when I first became an educator several years ago, I believed that children must raise their hand to speak in class. So, I held my students to this high standard for a few years. I would penalize or speak with those students who did shout out instead of raising their hand. I think I did it out of respect. I felt as though the students should respect me as their teacher by raising their hand to share an idea or thought with the group. Not raising one’s hand and shouting out seemed disrespectful to me. So, I followed the mantra my teachers used even though I hated it when I was a student.
Luckily, I was able to break this vicious cycle a few years after taking a course on the neuroscience of education. I learned how students really learn. They need to explore, collaborate, communicate, try, share, fail, and try again. They need to feel safe and supported. While forcing students to raise their hand in order to speak in class, allows me as the teacher to be in control of the students at all times, it also makes the classroom very teacher-centered, which is not a good model to follow. The students need to feel like they have ownership over their learning. They need to be engaged in what they are learning. Although I do ask my students to raise their hands when they have a question or thought to share with the class, I try not to penalize those few students who do struggle to keep their ideas inside. I want my students to feel heard, as long as they are doing so in a compassionate and respectful manner. I no longer think of shouting out as disrespectful towards me, but rather, I don’t want my students to be disrespectful their peers. This new approach has allowed me to foster a student-centered classroom in which the students feel heard and respected. They feel like an integral part of the learning process. It’s no longer about me vs. them, instead, we’re all in this together like one big happy family.
Every once in awhile though, I do find myself falling back into old habits and speaking to the class about not shouting out. Today felt like one of those days. One student in particular shouted out on several occasions. Rather than point him out directly, I said to the class, “Shouting out is disrespectful behavior that needs to stop. Thank you to those of you who are raising your hand to participate in our discussion. I really appreciate that.” While I wasn’t calling the student out in particular, I was highlighting the fact that shouting out is negative behavior. Now, on occasion today, this student did add his insight and questions without raising his hand, but he did so, at times, in a respectful manner. Rather than talk over his classmates, he waited for openings in the conversation. This is perfectly appropriate behavior. I didn’t comment on those moments. Instead, I focused on the moments during which he was talking over students, as this is rude disrespectful behavior. However, I do wonder if this message was made clear to my students. Do they understand how to appropriately add to a discussion by not raising their hand? Well, they do because we’ve taught them the Socratic model of discussion. They have lengthy group discussions run by the students during which no hands are raised. They wait for breaks in the conversation to add their thoughts. Perhaps I should speak with them, as a class, about how to appropriately participate in class discussions. Shouting out while others are talking is not an effective method. Waiting for breaks in the conversation like our Socratic discussions is the best way to jump into a conversation without raising one’s hand. After I return from presenting at the NELMS Conference in Providence, RI, I will tell this to the students. I want them to understand that it’s not disrespectful to appropriately add to a discussion without raising their hand. I just need to be sure that I hold myself to this line and not fall back into old habits and try to maintain control of the class at any cost. Sometimes, this insecurity that I posses, causes me to make mistakes and not be the most effective teacher possible. Writing about it on this here blog helps me name it and understand how I can grow and change for the better. One of my many goals as teacher is to guide and not lead or control students. I need to give up control and help my students effectively learn how to be respectful and compassionate citizens.