Okay. I was wrong. I’ll use a microphone when I teach.

I’m stubborn. If I’m shown to be wrong, I’ll freely admit it, but I require a high standard of evidence. I teach a class of 175 in a large lecture hall. I don’t use a microphone. I don’t want to use a microphone. I have a strong speaking voice. I can project. I don’t need a microphone. Speaking unamplified feels more natural to me. It’s like I’m having a conversation with my students. When I use a microphone, it feels artificial. It feels too formal. I feel like a megachurch preacher or a TED Talk speaker (not in a good way) lecturing at my students.

I am wrong.

I hadn’t thought much about my choice not to use a microphone. In the past year though, I’ve seen a number of tweets, often by individuals with hearing impairment. These tweets can be summarized as: “Just. Use. The. Microphone.” But I was resistant. I knew at a deep level that I should use a microphone, but I just didn’t want to.

I recently finished reading Ken Bain’s brilliant What the Best College Teachers Do. One point that stood out to me was buried in a footnote:

“. . . some teachers strapped on the supporting microphones and others did not. Yet the pattern who did and who didn’t had little to do with the power of anyone’s naked voice. The best teachers tended to use them; weaker teachers did not (with some important exceptions). When we asked people on both sides of the divide why they did what they did, the responses were revealing. The users said they wanted their students to hear them, or they worried about the students in the back row. In contrast, the non-users often said they never thought about it, or that it was too much trouble. Some non-users claimed their voices were robust enough, even when they were clearly not, and seemed insulted that anyone would suggest otherwise. How they saw themselves seemed more significant than whether their students could hear.” (Bain 2004, P. 198)

That brought me a bit closer to using a microphone, and Jessie B. Ramey (@JessieBRamey) pushed me over the edge in her excellent piece in The Chronicle, A Note From Your Colleagues With Hearing Loss: Just Use a Microphone Already. Her key point is that I’m making my decision to not use a microphone about me. But the decision shouldn’t be about me. It should be about my students.

“Refusing to use a microphone is like scheduling a meeting in a room accessible only by stairs. And then when your colleague in a wheelchair shows up and asks for a ramp so she can attend, you stand at the top of the steps and say, ‘No thanks, I’m good.'” (Ramey 2019)

For good measure, she also undercut my belief that I don’t need a microphone.

“Simply talking loudly isn’t enough. It’s not about the fact that you took a high-school theater class and learned to project from the stage . . . It’s not about your belief that you are a good speaker. The quality of sound coming from a microphone is different: It’s more distinct and easier to hear.” (Ramey 2019, emphasis added)

I don’t know if I’ve had students with hearing impairment. I most likely have, but the burden shouldn’t be on them self-disclose and ask me to use a microphone. I do know that a large number of my students are English-Language Learners. After reading Dr. Ramey’s piece, I presume that my amplified voice would be easier for them to understand too.

Okay. I concede. I was wrong. I will now use the microphone whenever I teach in a room that has one.


Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Ramey, J. B. (2019, March 20). A Note From Your Colleagues With Hearing Loss:  Just Use a Microphone Already. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/A-Note-From-Your-Colleagues/245916

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