Why is a teacher’s tone of voice such an important part of their job? Simply put, your tone of voice as a teacher helps establish authority, create a structured learning environment, and set the tone for the class in terms of behaviour, engagement and even your rapport with your students. A teacher must know how to strike the right balance to be seen as authoritative, but not unapproachable or intimidating. You need to show you are in charge, while still being able to give genuine praise and encouragement. There are a few important things to keep in mind to strike the right balance.
How you address your class will vary from teacher to teacher and the type of students they are teaching. Middle school and high school teachers would want to use authoritative and polite terms to establish that you are in charge of the class and that it is now time to learn and pay attention. The way you start the class is important in achieving this. By using the same greetings and opening phrases you will be able to establish a routine that influences student behaviour when hearing you say these terms. The term “Good morning class” is a friendly way of greeting everyone and indicating that class will now start. This may seem obvious, but it’s what follows that matters. Following your greeting, a friendly chat establishes a strong rapport but might undermine your authority by making you seem like an equal and not a teacher. This is all determined by the students you are teaching and your approach to teaching. Leading straight into instructions is a way of getting students to jump right into the class but is not the best way of establishing a strong rapport if every class starts this way. The greeting you use is an important way of establishing class behaviour and rapport.
Another big part of an effective tone of voice is how you want students to address you, ask questions and engage with you and the class. Reinforcing manners like saying “Excuse me” before raising a question. This helps create a structured learning environment, establishing these sorts of rules, but not enforcing them can undermine your authority. When students know to use formal language when addressing you during class time, they will understand the power dynamic you are trying to establish. Emphasising students to ask questions with formal language, such as, “May I please go to the bathroom?”, “Could I please go to my locker?”, make students aware that they can approach you, but need to do so with respect manner. This is an important way of creating a structured learning environment and instilling the right kind of behaviour.
Lastly, a teacher's tone of voice does not purely come from the way you talk and the way you want your students to address you, but it is also affected by what you don’t say. Though the job can be stressful at times, it’s important not to show your frustration in your tone of voice and it’s even more important to never lash out or complain to students. Coddling terms and an overly “sweet” tone of voice must also be avoided by teachers, this can come across as babying the students which is not a good motivator. To avoid this be more direct and sincere with your choice of words and your tone. A teacher must not sound exasperated, especially in response to something a student says, as this can be seen as demeaning and even humiliating to them. Your tone should never be too flat or monotonous, this is an easy way to bore students or make it hard for them to focus on what you’re saying. Shouting is not always as useful as teachers think, shouting is typically not the best motivator and, in some cases, does not help de-escalate a situation or correct bad behaviour. Instead, consider using a harsh tone in your normal speaking voice and remind students that you are in charge and bad behaviour will result in consequences. These tips all contribute to the perfect balance of respect and structure in the classroom.
As you can see, there is a lot of value in what you say to your class and even more value in the way you say it. Tone of voice is a powerful tool and an essential skill to master for all teachers. Consider all of these points when establishing your preferred tone of voice that best suits your teaching style and your classes.
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