I laughed out loud reading Jay Mathews’ recent column titled The Case of the Silent Loudspeaker. Seems as if a testy teacher got fed up with constant classroom interruptions over the school intercom and solved the problem with a pair of wire clippers and a step ladder. "She used the extra bits of uninterrupted learning time to focus on math word problems and reading novels and several other techniques that captured her students’ interest, and raised their achievement levels significantly," writes Mathews.
I took a similar approach a few years back—with a bit less success. Having griped about the constant intercom interruptions that were plaguing my class, I unscrewed the speaker from the ceiling and left it in the hallway, along with my classroom phone. My students literally celebrated—it was a grand revolution to them. Standing up to the man in favor of learning made me an instant hero to a group of kids that were as fed up with "the voice from above" as I was.
It wasn’t long before an administrator rolled through my room, though. "Is there something wrong with your intercom?" he asked. "Yup," I replied. "I don’t know why, but the stupid thing goes off probably three or four times a day. It must be broken."
The speaker was reinstalled by the time I got back to school the next day.
What is it about announcements that loosens teachers’ screws? Interruptions like these—shared with me by a few colleagues I caught up with this afternoon:
1. The lawn outside of one teacher’s classroom was regularly mowed during instructional hours. "Try keeping the attention of twelve-year olds with a dude riding a lawn mower bigger than a Humvee and louder than a Harley rolling by for an hour," she shared.
2. "Our classroom computers—used in my room for daily presentations—were taken for "tune-ups" without advanced notice because ‘that was when the tech-guy could come’," wrote another.
3. "An "all-call" was made—interrupting every class in the building—asking teachers to check their email for an important message. The message: Our faculty meeting time had been changed for that afternoon."
4. "The name of every single player who’d gotten a hit in a 19-4 rout on the baseball diamond being read on the morning of an important unit test for my students."
Mathews is right on target when he writes, "The amount of time taken up by loudspeaker announcements each day is small, but it adds up. It also reinforces the notion that classroom time is not so important that it can’t be interrupted for trivialities and sugary entertainment." Trivial announcements send messages that cheapen the work that teachers do each day. "What we’re doing here isn’t as important as what is happening somewhere else," we subtly tell our students. "Oh yeah, and remember that your teacher isn’t really in charge."
Who else hates the intercom? I’d love to hear similar stories. It’ll make me feel like I’m not drowning in my frustrations alone. Leave a comment—let’s all share a laugh.