Friday, February 03, 2012


In preparing for the pointless exercise that is the annual performance review, I discovered something in the evaluations that I'd never seen before: several students in one class commented that they couldn't hear me.

I'm plenty loud, and no one has ever said that before in all my years of teaching. "Grades too hard"--yes. "To much writting" with exactly that spelling--oh, yes indeed. Never "too quiet," though.

What happened? I think it was a combination of the bigger-than-usual class and a large classroom with lots of external noise. I couldn't hear it most of the time, but it must have been louder toward the back of the class.

Here's the thing: not one person over the course of 16 weeks indicated that they couldn't hear me. Not one. I didn't even get "could you repeat the question?" when I called on people in the back of the room, or maybe I did but chalked it up to their inattention rather than my voice volume. I feel bad that they couldn't hear me; I could have done something about it if I'd known.

Why didn't they speak up? It might be that those who couldn't hear checked out mentally (hey, I've done that, too), or that they figured they would pick up whatever it was from their classmates' comments. I think part of it, though, was that these Northern Clime students didn't want to ask me to speak up because it might be rude.

Now the story part: a long time ago, I went to an event at a school where the population was largely from a city famed for its directness in speaking up. (I'm not saying people there are not polite; I'm saying that they have the reputation of being very direct and don't suffer fools gladly.) It was graduation, and the speaker was extremely distinguished internationally. He was also elderly and soft spoken. After his first few words, I heard a voice bellow from the back of the hall.


He looked confused and stumbled over the next few words. Then a few more people yelled the same thing: "Louder!"

This was back before members of Congress would heckle the president, you understand, when yelling in this way was seriously rude, so I was mortified. He couldn't speak up much more (and why was there no adequate microphone?), but the calls stopped after a while and he finished his speech.

What I thought when I read those evaluations is that I wished I had had one of those students from Direct Expression City in that class just once so someone would have told me to talk "louder."

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