The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

Today was my student teacher’s second day of taking over in my classroom, which means it was also my second day of letting go and turning things over. In general, it was a fairly typical Wednesday, with our University of Illinois nursing student coming in to lead a health lesson first thing in the morning, going to Miss C’s room for Learning Buddies before recess, working on our new science unit and writing about what was learned, going to the gym of P.E., working on summarising main ideas for literacy, and ending our day by finishing Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. (The students really enjoyed this book, incidentally, and I am sure that many will be arguing over who gets to read the other books in the series first!)

One of the benefits for me when a student teacher is doing a full take-over is the opportunity to not just observe her practice (sorry, fellas, but I have yet to have a male student teacher working in my room), but also to reflect on what I do. Sometimes I see what someone else does, recognise that it may not be the most effect practice, and then realise that I do it, too. So my feedback for her is often feedback for myself.

Something I realised today was how often teachers say one thing when we kinda-sorta-maybe-don’t-really-mean-it-all-the-way. Oops.



One of the areas in which I am most guilty of this is voice levels in the classroom. I have a lovely chart that our social worker made for me last year that has colour-coded voice levels:

(Our social worker found this on TeachersPayTeachers then made her own version that is much, much larger.)

The default voice level in my classroom is a Level 2. We do lots of small group work and so the students are permitted to speak quietly to one another.

Correction: the default voice level in my classroom is supposed to be a Level 2. In reality, it usually gets up to a 3 and sometimes even a 4.


As teachers, it is so important for us to say what we mean and mean what we say. If we want the students to be at a Level 1 or 2, we need to tell them that. We shouldn’t tell them to be at a Level 0 (absolutely silent) and then allow them to speak quietly to one another. When we do, the students’ minds associate Level 0 with the actual volume of Level 2, which means Level 2 is actually a 4.

My student teacher and I talked about this after school today and I realised that I need to take some time tomorrow to reteach what the voice levels sound like and be more consistent with what I expect of my students. I also need to make sure that if I consider quiet conversations that are on topic acceptable, I need to state that clearly. I shouldn’t tell students to be at a Level 0 if a Level 1 is okay.

I know that it will take time to unlearn some of the habits my students have formed and it will take time to learn the correct habits but, let’s be honest: isn’t that just part of my job?


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