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Inside Teaching : April 2011
www.atra.edu.au | email@example.com TEACHING TIPS 31 If you stand in front of a student and tell them off, you’re in a cowboy shoot-out. You’ve signaled with your body that the student is in a gladiatorial environment in which the likelihood is that they’ll be humiliated or diminished. Side- on, the confrontational aspect of the quiet chat disappears, and it remains just that: a quiet chat, a communication between souls. Tip 4 facial expressions There’s a facial expression that should be your default setting: the smile. With the student whose company I’m much enjoying this year, the much- misunderstood and oft-derided B, this has been the secret: every day he has been greeted by someone who appears to be pleased to see him (and I am: the smiles come easily), which sets the tone for his behaviour. He’s welcome and wanted in the class, and is made to feel it. There’s no stimulus to cause him to feel undervalued, misunderstood or insulted. When it’s time to talk about the work – the side-on quiet chat – a second facial expression comes in: the sincere raised eyebrows and furrowed brow of the ‘none more interested’ expression. We all want to be valued and taken seriously, and many of the students I teach simply aren’t. It takes nothing to show that you are genuinely, sincerely interested in their nascent humanity, their fledgling brilliance, their emotional landscape. Tip 5 Language There are a few key phrases you can use to create the conditions for students to feel cared for and worthwhile. The first of these is, ‘You are clever.’ It stunned me that on The Unteachables, the television series shown on ABC1 a couple of years ago, the young people I was working alongside found this revelation so strange. The fact that they were 14 years old and hadn’t encountered this phrase before just shows how vital it is that teachers use it every single time they feel it. Often this phrase is all it takes for a productive relationship to commence. A second useful phrase is, ‘Imagine I was a human being and that I cared about you, and then talk to me.’ It’s all too easy for students to feel that teachers are, as Neil wrote in his letter to his bank manager, in The Young Ones, merely authority figures of the ‘darling-fascist-bully-boy’ variety whose main function is to oppress. Identify yourself as belonging to the same species as your students, reveal your humanity openly and nakedly, and you’ll witness the change in their countenances as you speak to them. The final piece of language that I think might work, but haven’t had the guts to try out yet is to look deep into a student’s eyes and say, ‘I see you.’ Maybe there hasn’t been a right point yet to employ this. Alternatively, it might just be that, ‘I see you,’ is implicit in everything that a good teacher does, and possibly it doesn’t need to be said, but don’t tell the Na’vi of Pandora. Phil Beadle will be teacher-in- residence at Knox Grammar School, Sydney, in late July. He is in Australia throughout August to conduct professional learning. Contact Phil@inspired-education. co.uk His latest book, How to Teach, published by Crown House, was reviewed in the October 2010 issue of Inside Teaching. REFERENCES Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York Bantam Books.