The Sound of Silence

March 7, 2013

I tell my students that classrooms shouldn’t be silent.

A place where learning is happening isn’t chaotic, but it isn’t quiet either.  Questions are noisy and don’t always follow a raised hand.  Frustration can be even louder.  Conversations that connect readings to life are often accompanied by laughter.  Passionate arguments that lodge ideas and information deep into students’ hearts are loud.

The silence I hate most of all in my classroom is the silence of the standardized test.  It is heavy, overbearing, and depressing.  It makes my soul start to shrivel up.  I’m all for tests; I think it’s important to be held accountable to teach information.  But, the oppressive silence of students weighing their choice of A, B, C or D makes me want to punch somebody.  As I proctor, all I want to do is to talk to students about their choices, to crack a joke, to say something that will make hands shoot up and wave for attention.

There is one silence I love, through, and it boggles my mind that the same absence of noise can feel so different.  When every student has a book in open on his or her desk and is intently reading, the silence is full.  The draw of a story or a character cannot be broken by sounds in the hallway or my moving around the classroom straightening up from the last class.  There is a peace in the classroom that I feel at no other time.  When I tell my students we have to move on to our lesson, there is the briefest of sighs as they close their books.  Their eyes light up and they want to tell me what happened in the couple of pages.

The moral of this story?   Testing days make for a grumpy teacher and sad students.  Reading days make for a happy teacher and contented students.

Sometimes educational pedagogy isn’t rocket science, people.