6 Keys to Creating an Assertive and Constructive Teacher Voice

By Cindy Watson and Marcia Jacobs
Dr. Watson is a Senior Lecturer/Master Teacher at the University of North Texas. Her teaching practice and research centers around effective teaching, coaching preservice teachers to conduct action research, and the beliefs of future educators regarding the use of inquiry.

Ms. Jacobs is a Lecturer/Master Teacher at the University of North Texas. She teaches courses in exploratory teaching and project-based learning to mathematics and science preservice teachers at Teach North Texas, emphasizing high-yield instructional strategies and student-centered learning.

Throughout your own education, you’ve probably experienced many different teacher voices: firm, assertive, hostile, sarcastic, meek, inflexible, and argumentative. Using affirmative words, tone, and attitude—together with effective classroom management strategies—ensures a teacher voice that builds a learning environment with high expectations.

An assertive and constructive teacher voice is firm and consistently affirms learners. It does not exhibit a negative tone, nor does it attack students (Emmer & Evertson, 2013). Being assertive correlates to being proactive. Being unassertive correlates to being reactive. Developing an assertive and constructive teacher voice is attainable. Teaching is complex and holistic; it literally involves your whole being. Understanding and implementing these six nonverbal and verbal teacher communication skills results in the most improvement and an effective teacher voice.

1. Attention-Getters
Attention-getters should be part of a daily routine to which students know how to quickly and automatically respond. Even high-school students need ways for you to get their attention, although you won’t use them as often as you would in the lower grades. Currently, teachers use attention-getters more for the lower grades, but they’re needed with all ages.

Never speak over students. Instead, stop in midsentence, be silent, and patiently wait for their full attention before you speak. Let students know that speaking when you are speaking is not acceptable. Explicitly inform them that you expect them to be quiet and look at you. Many attention-getter options exist. A simple one is to raise your hand and say, “Quiet, please,” and wait until all students are quiet.

2. Affirmations of Appropriate Behavior
To affirm appropriate behavior, consistently make positive statements when you’re seeing the behavior you expect. Concentrate on describing the behavior, rather than your approval, and be specific. For example, “I see that Stacy and Alejandro have washed and put away all their lab equipment,” rather than, “Rick, why didn’t you put away your lab equipment correctly?”

3. Body Language
When it comes to body language, pay attention to your eye contact, your stance and posture, and your facial expressions. You want to:
  • Maintain direct eye contact at all times, particularly when you’re redirecting behavior by making an enforceable statement.
  • Exhibit an upright posture and keep your arms open instead of folding them.
  • Align your facial expressions with your tone. Be serious when addressing a serious situation.

4. Enforceable Statements
For an enforceable statement, say what you will do, since you are the only person you can control. Identify the problem directly, describe the effects, and ask the student to stop. Typically, the behavior will cease when you make an enforceable statement. Here are two examples of non-enforceable statements versus enforceable statements:
  • Non-enforceable statement: “Everyone be quiet right now.”
  • Enforceable statement: “I will continue the lesson when everyone is quiet.”

5. Problem Resolution
For problem resolution, insist upon on appropriate behavior. Never argue with a student. Do not accept excuses, denial of the behavior, or allow students to blame others, which may include you. Establish and maintain high behavioral expectations by stating your classroom norms verbally and in writing. Better yet, include students in the process of setting and enforcing classroom norms.

Begin with a neutral redirection before students receive consequences. As soon as you see inappropriate behavior, talk quietly and individually to the student(s) involved. Make it short; state, “I noticed you talking while I’m talking. Would you stop, please?” Follow up by thanking the student, assuming compliance, and walking away. You may be surprised that this simple intervention of addressing a student individually and immediately will redirect most students most of the time with no need for additional intervention or consequences.

6. Practice
To build your teacher voice, practice using these different strategies.
  • Have a mentor, peer, or master teacher observe you and give immediate feedback during live instruction.
  • Observe a peer who easily commands the classroom and take notes of the many ways they use their teacher voice.
Your teacher voice may physically fill the room, but there’s so much more to it. Think about your words, body language, demeanor, and management strategies. All these elements together greatly influence your classroom climate. Utilize all aspects of your constructive and assertive teacher voice to create a welcoming and safe environment in which your students can learn.

Reference
Cantor, L. (2010). Assertive discipline: Positive behavior management for today’s classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Emmer, E., & Evertson, C. (2013). Classroom management for middle and high school teachers (9th ed.). Pearson Education.