This really got me thinking about how I teach: Is it true? The performance aspect of teaching was definitely not taught in any class I have ever taken. I think all different types of personalities can teach effectively, and I don’t believe there is only one right way to teach. But remembering my own education, the teachers who were the most interesting to watch and listen to were indeed the teachers I responded best to.
Do I have that talent? I definitely feel that I am putting on a daily performance to keep my students engaged; I will try anything to keep them interested and not putting their silly putty in their hair. I once took a brain-based learning class that said that students’ brains are evolving differently and that lessons need to be more colorful, more fast-paced, and more fun to keep them interested in learning. When my students learn to read sight words from video games, how do I compete?
Sidetrack for a moment: My former teaching assistant has just moved on to an internship in school counseling at the local high school. She called the other day to tell me she had a compliment for me. Apparently a student from the high school behavior program was refusing to talk to her. To reengage the student, my fabulous former assistant started to poke fun at herself and be slightly over the top. By the end of the session, the once-morose student was laughing and joking with her and talking openly. My assistant told me it was all because she had followed my advice—to which I wondered, “I gave advice?”
She said I once told her that I sometimes make fun of myself and exaggerate because it helps my students feel more comfortable, like they’re not the only ones to stand out. I help them understand that I make mistakes, too, and create a safe environment for them to show who they really are.
I was surprised (and excited) that I had said something that someone actually listened to and remembered, let alone used. But I do believe this particular strategy works. I do try to make things dramatic and fun. That’s not to say that time spent reading our big books at the mat or reviewing the vowel digraph of the week is super-exciting. But when I don my fuzzy pink tiara and magic “word wand” for guided reading, my students are just more absorbed in the lesson. When I keep it over the top, they laugh—and laughing students with emotional disorders are students who are engaged and not melting down. Maybe my “performances” keep the students not only academically engaged, but emotionally engaged as well?
Now, I fully understand the purpose of teaching is not just to entertain my students for six hours a day. I understand my classroom is loud (I occasionally get stares and comments from other teachers). I’m not saying I’m not envious of the classrooms where all 16 students are sitting quietly and working diligently.
But that’s just not my room. I know that come ISAT time, my annual yearly progress will not be judged on how much progress my students have made since the start of the year, but how close I get them to grade-level standards. I will do anything to get them there—not just because the state says I have to, but because I want my students to succeed. My students are in my room for a reason. They are there because the typical classroom didn’t suit their needs. And while my teaching style might be part Vgotsky, part Dreikurs, and part Ringling Brothers, my students are learning.
Down the road, I don’t know if I will be able to put forth the enthusiasm and energy that I do now. Falling asleep on the couch at 7 o’clock would indicate I can’t (my family genuinely doesn’t believe that any healthy 28-year-old should be as tired as I am daily). I am starting to see (quickly) how teachers can burn out and I don’t judge any veteran teachers for trying to keep their classrooms more structured and quiet. Who knows how my teaching style will evolve in 20 years.
But the way this year is going, I may not submit my application for a Golden Apple Award, but go after an Oscar instead.