A few weeks ago I had a really tough bout of laryngitis. It initially started as a flu and cold situation and lasted for almost 6 weeks of difficult speech. Interestingly enough, the first day I woke up and thought “I feel crappy,” was on a day that I was called to a really rough north London school, so it was really important that I had a voice. The kids were generally miserable and wanted to make my day as miserable as they felt. Ignoring my requests to stay in their seats, and deciding to get up and walk around the room opening doors, slamming cupboards, or dropping texts on to tables to create a loud “bang!” of noise. These were not toddlers, nope they were year 10 teenagers (10th grade for those of you in North America). Fifteen freaking years old! From my experience, any child or teenager that you meet that are causing “trouble” are generally never happy, open, and expansive in their approach to this world. They look miserable and are bound and determine to spread miserableness wherever they go. They haven’t made the connection to the way they approach the world, is what they are getting back in return. It’s a sad thing to behold.
I have been reading a book about confidence. Actually it’s about the integration of authority and vulnerability. It's called, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing by Andy Crouch. He says that in order for us to flourish as individuals we need to combine the two. If we are all authority, then we are just exploiting those under us. If we are all vulnerability then we live in suffering. If we have no authority or vulnerability, we are withdrawing from others and our own lives. Teaching difficult children shows you that most miserable kids are often claiming their authority over the situation at the expense of others, especially me and my authority.
Normally I have two options for such a situation: attempt to exert my authority or withdraw. I see many teachers or parents attempt to gain authority by using their voice loudly (aka Yelling). I am not a “yeller” per se, but with all my theatre training I do believe in “filling the room with my voice” but the trouble was I had no voice to use. I would try and get their attention and my voice was gone (not from yelling but the flu I was being struck with ). My second option, to withdraw, is what many beleaguered teachers and parents do to survive. They allow the kids to do what they like. However, I struggle being ok with that. To allow bad behaviour is ultimately unkind to kids. So the question is how do I maintain my authority in the face of such behaviour?
My voice is often my default for my authority. I will feel incredibly vulnerable inside, but outside my voice is strong. In my training in Fitzmaurice Voicework we were often encouraged to let your internal experience inform your voice. It is more about authenticity than sounding “correct” or perfect. For years, I had trouble talking and crying at the same time. In acting class, we would get scenes to work on and when things touched me emotionally I would cry, but the problem came when I had to continue my dialogue. This is not a isolated issue, many people struggle with this. So is it possible to use my voice authentically, with both authority and vulnerability, especially in situations where I am being bullied by a classroom of 15 year olds? I don’t know. In the book, he does say that leaders often have to hide their vulnerability in order to not burden those they are leading (Ie. a parent in financial difficulties may hide how truly difficult things are from the kids so the kids won’t worry or feel like a burden to their parents).
I would like to find that mix of vulnerability and authority in the voice. I think the actors who can do that are the ones who speak to an audience in a way that those with the "perfect actor" voice cannot. I believe that that would be the case for parents and teachers too. To connect in a way that commands authority but not at the expense of hiding your own heart. I want to flourish and I want to encourage those around me to flourish. It's my new crusade to stop the miserable and bring on the flourishing!