“Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theatre.”
– Gail Goldwin
A teacher recently asked me if teaching really is acting.
I believe that there are many times when an effective teacher must use the skills of an actor:
- When you are tired, hungry and thirsty but it is 9am on a Monday and you have to face your class and teach enthusiastically.
- Your head teacher has just informed you that you will not be getting your release time today as the RFF teacher is away.
- You are given an extra playground duty and you had planned to do some photocopying at lunch time.
- You are given a Year 6 class after 5 years on Kinder and you don’t really like the older kids.
- One of your students has just done something hilarious, but you know that you must reprimand them (inside you are laughing hysterically, and you know that it will be a great story for the staff room).
Teachers need to be confident and compelling even when they are tired, tetchy, distracted and lacking enthusiasm.
Here are 5 ways ‘acting’ will help you get through the day:
1. Use positive body language.
85-90% of our communication is non-verbal:
55% is what we do with our body and 38% is tone of voice and intonation
To be successful when you are communicating with students, be aware of the subtle messages you give through your body language and tone of voice. If you are feeling exasperated and frustrated with them they will know. So, while you will not like all your students, the students must never know.
Think carefully about how you use non-verbal and minimal verbal cues including thumbs up, smile, nodding, eye contact to acknowledge students who are on task and respectfully remind others to return to work.
If you have students who has difficulty staying on task, decide on a secret cue between the two of you to let them know when they are on or off task. Conversely, they can give you a non-verbal cue when they need help without losing face in front of other students.
Use visual cues to remind your students of appropriate behaviour and to support your verbal instructions. This reduces student anxiety by providing additional prompts and also reduces the amount of talking you have to do.
Your use of non-verbal signals to reinforce behaviour emphasises to students that when you do speak you have something worthwhile to say.
2. Consider tone, pitch and volume when speaking to the class. Have you ever listened to someone who spoke in a monotone? If so you know that it can get very wearing and boring.
Teachers can convey a sense of strength, urgency, confidence, and warmth all with their vocal chords.
Use light and shade in your voice so that students want to listen to you. Don’t feel the need to fill all the space with talk, allow pauses and silence. And, rather than raising your voice above the noise of students, use a non-verbal to get attention and then speak in a quiet voice so that they have to listen to hear you.
3. Preparation. All good actors and teachers know what they are doing, how they are doing it and have the props ready.
Many behaviour issues can be avoided by thorough teacher preparation and planning. Your students will easily become disruptive if they are not engaged in meaningful activities or are left too much to their own devices.
Be prepared for your classes by having all materials ready and organised ahead of time. The quickest way to lose control of a class is to spend 5 minutes getting the IWB working and putting your resources in order.
Be flexible. Part of being prepared is having a Plan B. If a lesson is not going well, change it! Having a contingency plan for when the lesson you planned is not working will stand you in good stead. Being prepared for students completing work early, with some additional activities can also prevent behaviour issues.
4. Confidence. As any good actor knows the motto is ‘Fake it till you make it!’. Even if you don’t feel calm, students will feel reassured and safe if they think that you are in control, you know what is going on, you know what to do. If students do not feel that the teacher is in control, then the learning environment is compromised.
5. Sharing. Every day in the classroom you are sharing yourself, your talents, your personality, your hopes and aspirations with your students. The best teachers focus on building positive relationships with their students because they know that kids learn best from people they feel care about them.
Darn right, a teacher has to be an actor.
So put on your best costume and get out there and wow your audience!