Teachers as Actors

It’s around this time each year that a couple of former students, be they upperclassmen, student aides, or simply returning to visit, will come by a class and find me in the middle of a lesson they recognize.  Inevitably, some will ask, “Don’t you get tired of doing the same stuff every year?” 

Sometimes, yes, but there’s also value to repeating units so we can improve them, and it’s always nice to be on familiar ground–one less thing to plan from scratch.  In this way, teachers are like actors: putting on a rehearsed performance multiple times, each time trying to make it come off as fresh to an audience seeing it for the first time.  Strange that students don’t realize how much of this is staged when they know that we teach multiple sections of the same class every year, too; they all seem to compare notes with their friends about what happens in various periods of classes often enough.

And make no mistake, it is a performance.  One of the things newer teachers all end up learning the hard way–and something we all have to readjust to as a new year starts–is just how physically draining it is to be up there working a crowd.  I’ve learned in my experience that there is one non-negotiable element of good teaching, and it isn’t any of the things you’re likely to hear in a college education class–it’s not positivity, “withitness,” or rapport. 

It’s enthusiasm.  I find that you can create just about any atmosphere or character you want in a classroom (mine tends to be decidedly crusty), as long as you do it with energy.  It’s far better to be a negative teacher with energy than to be an apathetic Pollyanna.  This, of course, is hard.  But it’s another way in which teaching is like acting.

4 comments on “Teachers as Actors

  1. Anyone who has sat through a presentation at In-Service should recognize that any presentation is made at least bearable by someone who is passionate about their subject. Most students will rise to the occasion if they have a teacher who cares about the topic at hand. That takes, acting, jokes, a love of the subject — everything in our bag of tricks. We aren’t in the business to entertain, but can do a better job educating an appreciative audience. On the few occasions of a bad day, or a necessary topic that just isn’t interesting, students are more forgiving of a plain boring class if the teacher is passionate about their subject.

  2. This is SO incredibly true. I know that, even after teaching four 50-minute lessons of the same thing, all in a row, I was EXHAUSTED. But you have to have passion, otherwise 95% of the students tune out. And can you blame them? If even the teacher finds the material boring, why should the students care?

    Of course, I got to teach Geology, so of course it was fun and never boring. Duh! :)

  3. Interesting that the day after reading and commenting on this subject, my AP History classes were scheduled to study the pre-Revolution taxes. As I discuss Patrick Henry’s 1765 speech where he threatens the King, I have the kids play the part of the House Speaker who yells “Treason!” at one point.

    Predictable outcome — first time through, wimpy yelling. I chide the class for not putting their heart into it, and explain that classes are nearly over for the day, and it will be okay if we scare the “bajeebers” out of the surrounding classes. Second reading, and they get into it enough to even scare me. A lesson I use every year, and they remember it late in the year.

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