This afternoon, one of my first grade students returned to my room after running an errand to another classroom in my school. She innocently replied, "That room was so loud, Mrs. Stone. It hurt my ears." She punctuated her story by covering her ears with her hands.
Since losing my hearing three and a half years ago, I've become acutely aware of how important it is to reduce the noise decibels in my classroom, not only to reduce the noise that interferes with my hearing devices, but also to protect the hearing of the students who spend 5 hours a day in close quarters while I teach them.
If only this were true of all teachers.
The reality is that classrooms are dangerously loud places for children to spend so much time. Research has shown that typical classroom noise levels exceed 70 dB. To put that into perspective, your vacuum cleaner is about 70 dB, as is city traffic. Studies have also shown that children, because of their neurological immaturity, are inefficient listeners, and thus need optimal sound conditions to listen and understand. Ambient noise is detrimental to listening and learning. According to School Planning and Management, students
in today’s classrooms are unable to understand approximately 25 to 30 percent
of what their teacher says because of excessive noise and sound reverberation in the classroom.
There are many problems that work against ideal listening conditions in our classrooms. Schools buildings are old. Acoustics are poor. Classrooms are crowded. Many teachers use voice amplification systems. Students spend increasing amounts of times in front of computer screens with headphones that pummel their ears with concentrated sound. Teachers are unaware of decibel levels in their classroom. Children aren't taught to use appropriate voice volume -- often even encouraged by the adults around them to yell at deafening levels -- "I think you can do better than that! Let me heeeeeaaaaarrrr you!" And the ensuing screams leave children grimacing in pain and covering their ears.
Unfortunately, when children and the adults who teach them are repeatedly exposed to these levels of sound, they are subjecting the delicate hearing cells in the inner ear to irreparable damage, usually unaware that they are doing so. It isn't known at what point that hearing loss may actually occur in the damaged cells. It could be a cumulative effect of repeated exposure to excessive decibels. It could be instantaneous.
The point is -- as caretakers of children, shouldn't we be caring more for their hearing health than we are? We certainly take many precautions to keep them safe and healthy throughout the day, yet we continue to expose them to dangerous hearing decibels.
As one who has lost her hearing, I realize how precious it is. And I am committed to protecting and teaching my students about dangerous decibels. And if you read this blog, you know, too.
We should be doing better.