One of the qualities of the best teachers that I have ever had is when they aren’t afraid to make a fool of themselves or fail in front of their students. They go hard. They buy into their silliness, and they don’t care if the students sigh and roll their eyes or join in. I think of it as the one piece of being a teacher (you know, since we are so many things policeman, councilor, psychic, doctor, and many, many other things). One of the hats we wear is performer.
I went to a small venue for a rap concert one time. The crowd was small, but the venue was nice. When the performer came on stage, he danced and jumped around that entire stage, he was fully committed to going 100 and giving the best performance of his life even though the venue was only about a quarter full. He did not let the crowd set the mood; he set it. And song by song, the audience began to loosen up and dance. It amazed me that one person could change the mood of so many people and influence them to do something they wouldn’t normally do.
That’s the way we can be as teachers. The students can come in with any variation of moods (especially if you are teaching teens or preteens), but we can be the guiding force of emotions in the classroom. If you are going to teach something, think of a way to really get their attention. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Draw something and make fun of your drawing ability. Sing for your students. Bring in a song that their parents listen to that has relevance to your lesson and sing along. I have a lesson in which I use the song For What it’s Worth (Hey children what’s that sound), and I remind the students that they will never hear that song again without thinking of me, that I will be immortalized in their minds forever through that song… then I laugh an evil cackle. They roll their eyes but laugh.
When Failure Happens
On a more serious note, failure will happen. We will say or do things that will be embarrassing or say something completely wrong. I cannot count the amount of times I have fallen on my face in front of the students. I guess that’s the price I pay for wearing my emotions on my sleeve and having little filter (I blame four years in the Marine Corps for that!!). But you know what? Being honest about failure is huge. Be honest with them and they will generally respect you for it. (note: you don’t have to be honest EVVVERY time. I make so many mistakes that it would lose its power after a while. Pick and choose what’s important.)
Sell Your Performance
As for doing a new speaking engagement or new lesson, you might feel embarrassed or insecure. Don’t let that fleeting emotion stop you. When I’m feeling insecure or bashful, I play a kind of game with myself. I remind myself to “fake it till ya make it.” I am actually pretty introverted, no one ever believes me because I never shut up half the time. But I’ll go the whole week without talking to almost anyone and then all my words build up in class, and they all come flooding out, and I can’t stop them; I have honestly tried. (I also blame the fact that I love this MA TESOL program, and I love discussing education as a whole.) But I honestly have to hype myself up before doing a speaking engagement out of my element (my element is teenagers). What is not my element is standing in front of a classroom of adults trying to tell them how or what to teach. So when I do have to speak in front of adults, it is a performance. I do the whole, back stage building up and controlling my emotions, I practice, and then I go out there, turn my analytical brain off and act like I know what in the world I am doing and am saying. I pretend like I’m an expert in the field. I use my hands, walk around, make eye contact, and try to make what I’m saying sound like the most important thing anyone has ever heard. We become salesmen in this mode. Salesmen have to convince themselves that their product is the best before they can convince anyone else. Believe that your lesson or speech is going to change lives. Believe that you know exactly what you are talking about… Because if you believe it, they will. On the rare chance that they see through your facade, they will most likely see that everyone else loves it and won’t say anything to rock the boat (well not always, but you can count on that most of the time).
So go be silly, goofy, and confident. Fake it if you must, and Teach Hard or Go Home!!