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Inside Teaching : April 2011
inside teaching | April 2011 TEACHING TIPS 30 It’s caused me to wonder why B, whom I regard as a stone-cold genius in somewhat loping and over-apologetic form, is regarded as a dangerous and unruly idiot by another teacher? The answer is simple: the teacher doesn’t see B. AndIcanseewhy.Bisproneto giving out signals that he’s not interested in education; his body language can be overly laconic, passive aggressive or definitively closed. He can be monosyllabic, non-committal, ‘just not in the mood.’ But he has a smile that, when tempted into being, lights up the room; a sharp sense of his own ridiculousness (always a sign of high intelligence); and, when tempted into picking up his pen, a sharp analytical mind and a pleasing fluency with the language. Yet some teachers regard him as an idiot – their bête noire. Why is this I wonder? I think it’s usually because they’re unable to see past the body language, and don’t or somehow can’t take the trouble to see him. It’s easier for them to write him off as an idiot than to spend the little time it takes to create the conditions for him to display the genius he is. And the time this takes is minimal. There’s a hoary old cliché in England that is dispensed to newly qualified teachers, wrapped up with a silver bow and presented as being the ultimate in wise old lag’s advice: ‘Never smile before Christmas!’ In Australia of course it’s, ‘Never smile before Easter,’ and it’s just as damaging a piece of advice. Tip 2 Never smile before Christmas? ‘Never smile before Christmas!’ the old lags say, sure their position as the font of all teaching knowledge is entirely safe. This absolutely absurd and abhorrent maxim is not only useless, it’s also damaging. New teachers bomb into lessons thinking that looking stern, shouting a bit and dispensing punishments will make a class instantaneously stand in ordered lines, salute and display a lifelong commitment to learning; but it doesn’t work. Why? Because, as Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and a pile of other books on psychology and education, has pointed out, emotion is viral. Think about it. If you shout at someone, which is more likely: that your shouting will put them in a preternaturally calm state, or that they’ll shout back at you? If you enter the classroom in a calm, smiling, intellectually engaged state, sure that the behaviour will fall into place if the learning is good, is this likely to send tense or objectionable signals to your students, or is it more likely to set a mood for learning that is both relaxed and quizzical? The tricks with which you create the conditions to reveal your students’ good souls to you are simple, and the time they take, once internalised, are minimal. They can be learned in less than the time you’ve taken to read this article, and fall under three categories: body language, facial expressions and language. Tip 3 Body language Let’s look at body language first. Here’s a trick that I’ve employed unconsciously for many years, and that I’ve only become aware of since someone told me they saw me do it on television, and thought it was deliberate: in any one-to-one circumstance, always make yourself as small as you can with a student. If you’re speaking to them in a corridor, lean against the wall, so that as much as possible you’re eye to eye – and, yes, this can be tricky if they’re in Prep. If you’re modelling how to write, sit on the classroom floor and have students gather around, towering above you. If you’re supporting students, answering questions or marking their work, do it from a kneeling position as they are seated at their desk. If you’re gently discussing the fact that they haven’t been giving of their best in a lesson, do it side-on.