Teachers are Rockstars

2 Jan

The minute a teacher walks into a classroom is often an electrifying one. It is that moment that decides whether the class will work as one towards their goal, or whether the teacher will merely count the minutes for their time to be up while trying to build cohesion in the classroom. For most of us, this does not happen by accident – it takes years of work to reach that zone of grace and power.

In many countries, primarily in Asia and the Far East, respect for teachers is taught from the very beginning. There is a clear protocol to be followed when the teacher enters the classroom, with the students rising and chanting the greeting appropriate to the time of day. This forms a clean kinesthetic break from whatever they were doing previously, allowing the teacher to start with a clean slate – we hope. Many countries do not have such protocols based on the assumption that self discipline and the teacher’s toolkit will start off the lesson well. Great teachers often make that moment electric, and it can only get better from there.

Teaching, say some, is a performing art. This is true both for the very young, and for learners who have come back to the classroom after a long time, such as in community colleges, in institutes of lifelong learning and of course in corporate training sessions. The impact of a lesson that includes a bit of drama, a bit of laughter and a bit of a story is certainly higher than a lesson where a lecture is delivered and notes must be taken. Andragogy, which is the science of teaching adults suggests that lectures should be restricted to that part of learning that shares knowledge and must not be longer than 7-10 minutes, since this is the attention span of a normal adult. Other studies are available too, with different numbers, but the point remains valid. Attention spans are also seen to be diminishing in the era of social media, text messaging and of course television. Teachers, must then, break through the barrier of the glazed eye and the distracted doodle to engage the learner in the moment.

The energy and the training required to become such an engaging performing artist is immense and goes beyond mere mastery of content. Mere knowledge does not make a good teacher, nor is it very clever to allow generations of students to pay the price for all those times when the teacher was learning how to teach.  Teaching too evolves with time, with the needs of the students and the world around us, even if curricula take time to catch up. The best teachers that people remember were not the gentle ones who completed the syllabus on time and returned marked sheets with excellent scores. The best teachers I know were fun – because as they taught they brought a buzz into the classroom. Some, because of the range of experiences they discussed. Others because of the music they introduced us to – and alternate views that enhanced the world of history, civics and geography. Some others we remember for their adherence to the norm – the sticklers who taught us that perfectionism is possible, and a worthy goal. Of course we loved some of them, and hated others – always engaging with them as people, not just drones. Their personalities brought another dimension into the classroom, and their foibles (or were they actually tools) brought incentives to perform. That pretty young teacher, with the honeyed voice – how could the homework not be complete? That other sarcastic one – anything to avoid that whiplash tongue. The emotional highs and lows of classroom drama were an essential ingredient of great learning.

For such drama to be delivered effectively, as every theatre person knows, we need a script and costumes, among other things. Essential to good teaching is preparation. Our knowledge and the content that must be delivered can be assumed to be in place, but a script is almost always renewed for new audiences. Sometimes an improvised performance, sometimes completely scripted – the theatre of the classroom pivots around the key performer – the teacher.


This post was published in the Times of India here on December 28, 2011


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