Everyone’s voice is distinctive

Judith Victoria Hensley Plain Thoughts

November 15, 2013

I was at a meeting the other day and someone said to speak louder to another person at the meeting. Then they looked at me and said for me to repeat it in my “teacher voice.”

I was a little confused by the comment and have continued to think about it for the last several days. I’ve never enjoyed being in the company of loud women and I certainly don’t want to be thought of as a loud mouthed redneck woman. I surely hope that’s not what they meant.

The comment did give me a “heads up” about watching the volume control on my voice. After spending over 30 years working with children a person has to develop an authoritative voice that children respond to or they will be eaten alive.

Modern children are surrounded by noise. At home they often have a television set on in two or more rooms in the house during all waking hours, music playing, and talking on the phone (if not texting) to friends. They get use to the constant drone of meaningless noises. Some even sleep with the TV or stereo playing all night.

When these same children come to school and their friends are trying to talk to them, they can selectively tune the teacher out unless the teacher uses a voice that gets their attention. It may not all be about volume, though. I think there has to be a “no nonsense” quality to a teacher’s voice when they expect their class to listen. With between 23-30 students in class, speaking in a way that keeps their attention is a challenge.

Ask any teacher about being heard. Even when students are quiet, a teacher can give step by step instructions and expectations for an assignment and as soon as they finish, there will be at least one child who didn’t listen, didn’t hear, wasn’t paying attention and starts flapping their hand to say, “I didn’t get it… I didn’t hear what you said… Can you say it again?”

It’s almost as if a teacher has to break a certain sound threshold to get their message through. So, while a teacher doesn’t want to scream at their class, they still have to develop a voice that can be heard and taken seriously.

Since I’m not a teacher anymore, I am going to have to retrain my voice to be my normal self, not my teacher self. This may not make sense to anyone except other teachers or people who are used to speaking to large groups.

Another challenge in life is talking to people who have hearing issues. If a person is around people who need them to speak up in order to be heard, it might not be easy to take the volume back down around people who have cat’s ears.

Whereas I may need to make a real effort to soften my voice and lower the volume, there are people who need to crank theirs up a bit. The opposite of a loud redneck woman is a mousey, squeaky little voice that sounds like a child on helium. I don’t find this type of artificial voice to be cute, attractive, or desirable. If a person can’t help sounding that way, of course I mean no offense. But to those who do it thinking it makes them sound cute – get over it! If you are over twelve, please let your voice grow up along with your body!

Then there are those who talk in breathy half-whispers in an absurd attempt to sound sexy. This is almost always a trick that women will try in the presence of men. Sometimes I think those same men would be astonished to hear these little soft spoken angels in a regular conversation or a temper tantrum.

Our voices are such unique things. Even after decades, a voice from the past can be recognizable. The voices of those we love are so distinct we can hear them across a crowded room. When we think about something dear or something important that someone has said to us, we almost always remember it in the sound of their voice.

Our voices leave imprints on others. Sometimes it seems like voices can echo beyond time. A lot of people who have lost a loved one will hear that person’s voice in the house after they are gone.

I was at my son’s house a few weeks back, playing with my grandson in the living room. He suddenly stopped playing and said, “Sounds like DaDa.” I don’t know what he heard or thought he heard, but he had to go check it out. He was sure that he had heard his dad, who happened to be working that evening.

Most of us can identify favorite singers within a few notes of a song beginning. Each voice has its own unique tones and patterns.

Remember the days before caller ID when a phone caller was a mystery until you heard their voice. Usually, a person knew who was on the other end when they said the first word, “Hello.” I kind of liked being surprised by the voice on the other end.

We use our voices in so many ways that are important to the quality of our lives. Even as an infant, we learn to communicate and interact with others by the sounds that come out of our mouth. As we grow, it isn’t long until we learn to make more specific attempts at using our voice.

We sing. We laugh. We say loving things or hateful things. We say, “I’m sorry.” We give comfort. We ask questions. We teach. We advise. We cry. We pray. We make our feelings and our opinions known. We speak our mind. We bare our souls. We want to be heard. We want our voice to count in some way to someone.

It is a sweet thing to have someone say, “I’ve missed the sound of your voice.”

I’m going to make a sincere effort to shelf my “teacher” voice. I hope to be remembered for what I say that has meaning rather than what I’ve said loudly.