Friday, September 11, 2009


now that i am no longer a classroom teacher i do not get to use my viola swamp voice of death nearly as much as i use to. with the exception of when last year's kindergarten class rolled down the hill during a fire drill (yes, rolled down the hill during a fire drill- every time i write it down it helps me to deal with the fact that it actually happened), it's a rare occurrence that i have to pull it out.

yesterday as i sat at my desk doing paperwork i could hear the substitute teacher across the hall trying to get my first grade class to line up for lunch. it wasn't going well. the incredible classroom teacher has these little ones wrapped around her finger and all she has to do is say, "oh friends, this is so sad" and they jump into shape for her. it's magic.

clearly that was not working with the substitute.

when it didn't seem to be getting any better i decided to intervene. as i walked across the hall i could feel myself turning into james marshall's book- the footsteps in the hall, the door knob turns... their faces of horror when they realize i'd caught them running all over the poor substitute in my viola swamp voice of death.

unless they were in the kindergarten class for the famous fire drill incident they had no idea i could do that.

i've learned that the viola swamp voice of death is most effective when you use the element of surprise. once they're standing there, mouths open, trying to get in line as fast as possible, quivering because they have no idea what is coming next if you are using the swamp voice, you turn immediately back into miss nelson. "oh look at carlos with his eyes to the front! wow. and annie- she's got her hands behind her back" sweetly labeling their behavior and further encouraging them to show what is expected of them.

and then, for the little one who thinks that the miss nelson voice means that you don't really mean business- you pull out viola one last time- "johnny, get in line NOW" just to show them that unlike miss nelson, you do not need to do a superman change in the bathroom- your viola swamp personality does not require a costume.

as the substitute eyed me with trepidation and stayed on the other side of the room from me the rest of the day i worried i'd snapped too much at my little friends. or perhaps, she, like any normal, non-teacher, would assume that what she just witnessed showed a dangerous split personality and decided it best to not get to close.

who knows. maybe teaching turns us all into schizophrenics with our constant battle between miss nelson and the swamp. perhaps mr. marshall was really a psychologist who appreciated this duality and wanted us to come to turns with our inner swamp.


Angela Watson said...

I used to think the viola/nelson thing made me look schizo, too. Then I realized that staying in viola mode for longer than necessary or using it for kids who don't need it was worse.

Kirsten said...

Who is Viola Swamp? And what children's story does she appear in?

I must find and read that to my daughter, since one of her teachers (sometimes) uses the Viola Swamp voice.

organized chaos said...

You can meet Viola Swamp in Miss Nelson is Missing and Miss Nelson is Back by James Marshall. They are about a very sweet teacher whose children wont listen so she comes dressed as Ms Viola Swamp, a horrible substitute teacher also known as The Swamp, who doesn't have story time, gives lots of homework, and is just plain horrible. When Ms. Nelson is back the kids appreciate her much more. Kids LOVE this book because they love being in on the secret that Ms. Nelson is really The Swamp in disguise. Happy Reading!