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Personality, Performance and Precision

October 8, 2012

When I started my PGCE course I was told not to worry about my personality, now I didn’t take this personally but it was a curious comment and does the beg the question – should I worry? The meaning behind the comment however, I think, did have something to do with a teacher’s presence in the classroom and it was meant to reassure those who felt that they could not dominate or, more to the point, control a classroom with the force of their personality. There was no need to feel inadequate if you did not like showing off.

Not every teacher can be a performer!

The point of teacher training and of good professional practice is to ensure that all students learn even if you have the voice of a mouse and the presence of a sponge and, let’s face it, if you teach teenagers, if your presence is anything less than that of Gary Barlow (bad example) Barack Obama you are obviously not fit to teach them (in their opinion). The point of good professional practice, lesson plans, resources, sharing, clear preparation, precision and, of course, good use of IT is to allow the teacher to communicate their subject to all and sundry effectively, but does that make being a performer a crime?

Almost the first comment made to me when I was first observed by a senior member of the profession was “You’re clearly a performer” and while this was not said to insult it wasn’t meant as a compliment either. The dilemma is clear, if only those who could perform well as public speakers or humourists were able to be teachers, there would be less teachers and probably a lot of entertained but not so well educated students in the work place.

In a recent episode of the News Quiz, Jeremy Hardy rubbished the constant constraints on teachers that government now imposes on educators and education and claimed that what was needed, what was a good performer, someone who got the point over quickly, effectively and memorably. It was those teachers, he said that you remembered, and hopefully you remembered what they taught as well.

There is no substitute for good preparation, there is no substitute for good subject knowledge and there is no substitute for good resources, but being able to deliver all that effectively certainly helps.

Moreover after a few years in teaching there must be a point where you can come to understand your strengths and apply them, which is different from resting on your laurels. Complacency is a danger, but skill and experience can lead to confidence which makes the job easier. Even despite the occasional query, it does seem to me that if humour, anecdotes or simply being able to pace the room with real presence work in the classroom why not use them? I knew a maths teacher who used to promise his class ten minutes of “stand-up sir” if they completed their set tasks with focus and thoroughness. This harked back to his former career as relatively successful stand up comedian, it worked, the students delighted in his humour and he delighted in their work, but does it chime with Ofsted I wonder? Is there too much personality in stand up sir’s lessons, is he working too hard to get their attention, is he or a similar teachers with similar techniques taking over the role of the learner, if he or I dominate the class with anecdotes and a quick paced dialogue, are we leaving students behind, even though every one of them is attentive?

Recent reading I have done suggests that the only way you can assess for learning is to test students at the end of each lesson, bye bye stand-up sir, hello a quick test. What did we say we were going to learn? Did we learn it? Tell me what you learned? Test and repeat, not to mention stretch and challenge.

Over the years it does seem to me that performance is regarded as a barrier to precision and to learning success, maybe unbridled and undisciplined it is, structure and accountability are essential to support all approaches to teaching, but hopefully not at the cost of personality.

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