When you think about the teachers who made a difference in your life, do you wonder why they made such an impression on you? Was it because they taught you clever strategies for comma usage, or posted the learning objectives and referred to them often? Perhaps, it was the way they kept everyone quiet during tests. Sound improbable? More likely, you remember how they respected and valued what you had to say, or that they cared about you as a person. You might also recall how passionate and excited they were to teach their favorite subjects.
As a teacher, it’s important for you to consider the type of personality and energy you bring to the classroom each day. You, like everyone, have troubles inside and outside of the classroom. However, when working with students, you have to check your problems at the classroom door—to a degree. Your students come to you because you are focused, supportive, and provide encouraging words. Your guidance helps them improve in school and learn many of life’s lessons.
Sometimes, though, students do need to know that you have a life outside of the classroom and will better connect with you when you reveal some personal details. You, too, might have had a pet who passed away, or may have been disappointed with yourself or been let down by others. When you reveal your struggles and challenges, it helps your students see you as real, understanding, and approachable. Students don’t need to know every detail, of course—just enough to see you, the teacher, as similar to them. In The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Hubbell advise that meaningful interactions with students “are critical to student academic success” (p. 79), leading to positive classroom interactions and better behavioral and achievement outcomes.
Showing enthusiasm and humor helps. University of Virginia researchers Hamre and Pianta suggest that classrooms sprinkled with “pleasant conversations, spontaneous laughter, and exclamations of excitement” (p. 957) generally support higher levels of learning. British teacher research coordinator Helena Marsh states that students want teachers who aren’t so serious that they can’t feel “confident enough to do silly and memorable things to help [students] to understand something” (p. 162). In other words, students appreciate teachers who seize on opportunities to inject a little humor. Don’t take it too far; be purposeful with your instruction, but incorporate humor into your classroom and share a laugh with your students every now and again. Kids will certainly remember when you danced the Charlie Brown or the Macarena during break time. They won’t forget their teacher jumping in a 90-degree, 180-degree or a 360-degree pattern during math, either. And, in the end, the lessons will stick better.
When you model your enthusiasm for learning, your students will really want to grasp the information and do something with it. Excitement for learning is contagious!
Note: McREL is offering a 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching professional development workshop this summer in Denver. For more information, visit the registration page.
Cheryl Abla is an education consultant and product manager for McREL International. After 26 years in the classroom, she now works with teachers and schools on what matters most in classrooms using knowledge gleaned from The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching, Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, and Classroom Instruction that Works. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.