Q. My daughter doesn’t like her fifth grade teacher because she “yells at students.” Why is it okay for a teacher to yell like that? Do they even have the temperament to be teachers?
The volume of one’s voice does not increase the truth contained in the words. It just increases the likelihood that a student hears it. So when some parents find it hard to argue with the substance, they often complain about the volume.
You call it “yelling.” I’m going to call it “raising one’s voice” because, to me, yelling is shouting at the top of one’s lungs. I’ve never heard a teacher do that (although I may have come close a couple of times).
I make the distinction because “yelling” makes it sound like the “yeller” is out of control. Teachers should not be out of control. “Angry” and “frustrated” are probably inevitable, but they should always be in their right mind. If this teacher isn’t, anger management lessons may be in order.
Raising one’s voice is another matter entirely, but in the softening of our culture, it has sadly gotten confused with yelling. Teachers who raise their voices these days may be accused of “yelling” or even “screaming,” but this is generally just a case of people using a nastier word than necessary to help build support for something they don’t like. Kind of like when kids accuse parents of “emotional abuse” when they take their phones away.
Some adults disapprove of the “raised voice” no matter what. My guess, however, is that most parents still use it. I’m 100 percent sure that all of my friends growing up had parents who raised their voices, because I heard them. It wasn’t all the time, of course, just when their regular voices didn’t sufficiently command their child’s attention or when they wanted to express extreme disapproval.
I can’t see anything wrong with that. Used in the proper way, it’s a valuable tool. That’s why successful coaches are notorious for doing it. When my father raised his voice, I paid closer attention to what he was saying. Teachers may be inclined to do it, too, just like millions of parents do every day.
And that’s an important point because teachers serve “in loco parentis,” which translates to “in the place of parents.” That means we should treat our students the way we would treat our own kids, within certain legal limits, of course. If my own kids who I love with all of my heart aren’t behaving appropriately, they might hear me speak much louder. So might my students. Is there something wrong with that?
Obviously there are aspects of raising one’s voice that aren’t acceptable in the classroom. If a teacher is doing it to humiliate a student, that’s wrong. But it would be wrong even if she weren’t raising her voice.
It is also a bad idea for a teacher to raise her voice at one particular student when everyone else is sitting quietly. This is not only overkill, it can also be degrading, and the teacher will lose the respect of her students.
Most of us have known teachers who raise their voice all the time. This is just silly. Raising one’s voice can be a useful tool to get students’ attention, but if not used sparingly, it loses its effectiveness and annoys the whole school. Such teachers should politely knock it off.
Some parents object because their students don’t like the way it “feels” to have a teacher raise their voice at them. Well, of course not. The student isn’t supposed to like it. If a student is being called out for bad behavior, why would we want him to feel good about it? Expressing vigorous disapproval is not something teachers do to win friends They do it to instruct and keep order. So perhaps the student has missed the point.
Finally, you raise the issue of “temperament.” I’m sure there are teachers who fly off the handle at the drop of a pencil and would probably be better off serving as central administrators where nothing to pique one’s emotions ever happens. And I know that there are teachers who can sustain a patient, even temper no matter what happens. Some of them can do so because they are masters of their emotions, and they are assets to a school. But most of them are like that because they just don’t care. They are there to pick up a check. They are playing out the string. They don’t need the hassle.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it is hard to find good people who want to be teachers anymore, and harder still to keep them. If we are going to start vilifying teachers for acting exactly like the most loving of parents — for caring enough to shout our disapproval in the face of rotten conduct, for emphasizing a point that’s been made a hundred times before, or even for just showing occasional frustration — then those individuals who just don’t care will be the only ones left willing to do the job. There will be a lot of yelling in school if that ever happens, but it won’t be from teachers. It will be from hordes of out-of-control students who no longer have anyone left to constrain them.