What does that mean? What is a good teacher?
I think back to the many teachers I’ve had teach me over the years and I ask my own kids and we had a discussion in class today which the students started on what makes a good teacher and there seems to be a common denominator… enthusiasm.
It seems that this enthusiasm comes in three separate packages: Enthusiasm for:
- the subject
- teaching itself
- building a rapport with all of the students
This all sounds simple, obvious and straightforward but is it?
Thinking of enthusiasm for the subject, I kind of put my actress hat on last week and demonstrated to the class what a totally bored, disinterested teacher with a bad attitude would be like. They thought it was hilarious (missed my vocation maybe) but it hit home that if I behaved like that, or any teacher behaved like that they wouldn’t last five minutes. Their class would have no respect, their colleagues would not tolerate them and they’d end up out on their backside.
I explained that some teachers, myself included, had perhaps practiced whatever we were teaching for years in the work place.. let’s say accounting for argument’s sake. They may have practiced it day in and day out, 40 hours a week for 10 years, they may have studied it for 3 or so years, they may have taught this same lesson time and again for years and years BUT they could not let that show in front of their class. They had to be enthusiastic, interested, engaged in what they were teaching in order to enthuse students. Some of the feedback from various sources on this concept was that it really showed to the student if the teacher was enthusiastic or not about the subject. They are not stupid these students, us them whoever, we’ve all been students and we are still students lots of us. We can tell when a teacher doesn’t respect or like the subject they are teaching, it shows as clearly as if they were wearing it on their face like a big warty fake nose.
I have to admit that the subjects I loved most as a student of various ages and which I am still passionate about now are all subjects in which I recall having a super enthusiastic teacher, be that the English Lit teacher who had us charging around a rainy field, our copies of Julius Ceaser in hand, shouting out our lines because he wanted us to get a visual of the big battle scene and where everyone was positioned. Or the French A level teacher who clearly spent hours at home designing a French Blockbusters game or re-writing the script of the Deidre Barlow/Ken Barlow/Mike Baldwin love triangle scenes in French (remember these were the days of VHS with no remotes, he must have sat on the floor for hours rewinding and replaying to get it right) just to bring the conditional case to life for us.
On to teaching itself and being enthusiastic about that. It’s perhaps easy for newly qualified or trainee teachers to be more enthusiastic because it’s all new to us but word on the street is that even some new teachers appear to not really like teaching. I explained to my son who commented on this that perhaps its nervousness and he said that no, it’s not that, he can tell the difference between nervousness and a lack of enthusiasm. I guess I’ll take his word for it. I kind of get where he’s coming from though, I’ve seen teachers who are nervous but so desperate to do a good job that they fall over themselves and trip themselves up and stumble through but at the end of it all you can see their enthusiasm, relief when it’s over but enthusiasm for what they are learning to do. As someone said to me “you get a sense that they are there because they want to be not because it’s a job”. I guess that’s one of the big markers and I’d kind of agree that I’ve perhaps suspected that in teachers who have taught me, that they had stumbled into the job for reasons other than they really wanted to be a teacher. Not because they wanted to fulfill a burning ambition but because it was one of a few options they had. If that does show then I guess it really does detract from being perceived as a good teacher. But in defense of teachers everywhere they could be generally enthusiastic and having a bad day, they could be time served teachers who are still enthusiastic but perhaps ready for a change of scenery or an end of term or a personal assistant.
I guess if there is not a real passion for the job then where does the passion for self development come from and where does the passion for the final enthusiasm come from? In recent times where there are issues with unemployment and lack of opportunities for graduates and when there are loans and grants available for a teaching qualification when there is nothing easily and universally available for any other post-grad course are people entering the teaching profession who really don’t want to be there and are they finding that they can not build the enthusiasm as quickly as they would like, or ever?
Enthusiasm for getting to know the students. This is an interesting one and discussions today kind of highlighted that it’s not just enthusiasm to know some of the students and build a rapport with them but to treat all students the same. To make the effort to build a rapport with the quietest student, the most challenging student, the student who you don’t understand too well because of a language barrier, the student who resists all attempt to engage them.. every student. The others notice if you start showing favouritism they do and as my son told me today “even if you are the favourite you still don’t see the teacher as a good teacher because you are aware of how unfair it is to have favourites and you know someone is being left out and that’s not right or fair”. Now either I have an overly compassionate son or he has a point.
The need to show enthusiasm for getting to know all of your students is therefore quite important. I thought about it and I thought “yeah, it’s easy to build relationships with the students who are easy to build relationships with” that makes sense. What I didn’t think about was how your lack of enthusiasm for building a rapport with the others is noticed by everyone and it reflects on perceptions of you as a ‘good teacher’. It has to be even and fair. A bit like parenting more than one child (something I’ve been privileged to do) you have to be mindful of having as good a relationship with each one or else sibling rivalry can creep in and you can lose control, or the children start to resent you for having favourites and the balance is all upset and their opinion of you as a parent can be affected. Similarly then failing to develop or work on building a rapport with each of your students can reflect on perceptions of you as a teacher and whether you’re ‘good’ or not.
A lot of this comes down to professionalism again really I guess, depending on what your view on professionalism is. That word is hard to escape this week.
What’s interesting is that it’s not about your knowledge of your specialist subject but your enthusiasm for it. It’s not about your ability to teach it’s about your enthusiasm for it. It’s not about your engagement with your students it’s about your enthusiasm for engaging with all of your students.
The things we kind of think of as being key to being a ‘good teacher’ before we set out on this journey (i.e. knowledge and the ability to communicate well) are not as key as I once thought, they are not as integral to being a professional as I would have imagined a few months ago. It’s that enthusiasm and interest in what you are doing I guess, that’s what the students see and that’s what makes their minds up and at the end of the day.
That then opens up a can of worms because we could ask lots of questions based on that. Is it possible to acquire enthusiasm or is it innate? What if we don’t have any, where do we get it from? If we have none are we in the right job? Can we still be a good teacher without it? How do you keep it alive? How do you refind it if it slips away? How do you notice that it’s gone? Do you notice that it’s gone?
It’s all good stuff, it’s good to chat to students and reflect on our experiences as students ourselves to enrich our understanding of what students see when they look at the teacher and not what we see. OTL’s give us an opportunity to look through the lens (Brookfield) which our peers and mentors and tutors view us but I guess this this is why it’s important to have a look through one of the others, especially that of the students from time to time too.