Monday, March 14, 2011

The Silent Librarian

You've heard of "The Unquiet Librarian", Buffy Hamilton?
Well, a couple of weeks ago, I became "The Silent Librarian".

At least once every school year, I lose my voice for a day or so. This time around, my laryngitis was combined with a dry hacking cough and lasted a week. My colleagues advised me to take a day or two off to recuperate, but I didn't feel ill and it was very difficult to book supply teachers, so I chose to solider through the week and teach without talking when possible.

I learned a lot about myself, my students, and my teaching/learning methods.

I discovered that my voice is a big part of my identity. Hitting the "mute" button almost made me disappear. My husband said, "I miss you" and I whispered in return, "But I haven't gone anywhere. I'm right next to you." He responded that when he doesn't hear me, it's like I'm not present. I was at a meeting that weekend and someone said "I thought you weren't here because I didn't hear you". Does that mean I'm a loud-mouth? For the sake of my fragile self-esteem, I choose to believe it's because I'm big on verbal communication. I sing. I joke. I chat. I had to cancel all Forest of Reading chats with students because I couldn't talk.

Teaching without talking is darn hard! I found I rely on my voice for class management, for instruction, for bonding with students ... for almost everything! We have several students at our school who are selective mutes and I don't know how they do it. People try to speak for you but are often wrong. I tried to communicate using gestures, facial expressions and typing/written notes, but talking is so much quicker a means of communication. I had EAs, ECEs and students read books for me and lead student discussions based on whispered directions I gave, but it was hard not to chime in to guide things when it went off-tangent or off-kilter. Ironically, for some people, when I whispered, they responded back with a soft voice to match. That's a classic behaviour-modification strategy: don't yell to be heard over student chatter; talk softly and they will focus to listen and respond in similarly quiet voices.

Students can be both very empathetic and find the humour in my predicament. When I lose my voice, instead of a sultry husky lower octave, mine turns into Minnie Mouse. Two intermediate students were surveying staff for participation in their fund raising breakfast initiative but when I went to answer, I squeezed and they doubled over laughing. They had to leave the library because they were laughing so hard. Many kids gave me a lot of advice - drink lots of water, go home and go to bed, take some medicine, don't talk, get a microphone like our music teacher wears - and many were concerned about my lack of voice and constantly told me to "get better soon Mz Molly".

I learned I don't like being a silent librarian - I will try taking better care of myself but I will also remember that silence can be golden, so I should stop talking of my own free will once in a while so that I can better listen.

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