Day 149, Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Over the past 6-8 years, I have gradually made a 180° turn in the way I talk during class. For the first many years of my teaching, when I was working with students in the classroom, I felt free to speak whenever a thought came to me. An idea would pop up in my mind, and more often than not I would simply let the thought flow out in words. I guess you could say I didn’t practice much “wait time” between thinking and speaking. I was a genuine “blurter”. My thoughts turned into spoken words pretty quickly during those early years in the classroom. Gradually, though, I have learned to practice restraint. In fact, restraint (and its synonyms self-control, self-possession, and self-discipline) might be the single most important teaching skill I’ve learned in the last 20 years. I’ve learned how to be more mindful of what I say– how to patiently wait when a thought comes to me, how to let the thought slowly kindle into meaningful, carefully chosen spoken words or slowly die away. What this has led to in my classroom, fortunately for my students, is far less talking by Mr. Salsich. In a given class period, I probably say 50% fewer words than I did 10 years ago. What this has led to, in turn, is a two-fold blessing: more talking by the students, and more silence. A visitor to my room would be surprised, I think, by how little I talk, how much the kids talk, and how often there are silent moments (or even full minutes). Hearing the children talk intelligently about literature has brought me great satisfaction, and I also have learned to appreciate and enjoy the times of silence, when we can all refresh ourselves with quiet thinking. My students have learned that I treasure thoughtful silence every bit as much as conversation, so they, too, don’t hesitate to embrace and take advantage of the occasional periods of silence, brought on mostly by my increasing ability to rein in the frisky horses of my spoken words.