The tears of a clown

Do children really want their teachers to be entertainers? Is it all about positive relationships?

A recent piece in TES, (25 traits that make a perfect teacher) which revealed what pupils say they value in a teacher, raised some eyebrow. They say that…

Funny: that’s what students want you, their teacher, to be. And they don’t just want you to have a joke in your teaching toolbox to provide some light relief from the drudgery of endless exams. Asked by Tes to list the characteristics that every teacher should possess, more than 3,000 students – from primary, secondary and special schools – said the ability to amuse was not just an important attribute, but something that determined whether a teacher was truly great.

I can see why this may cause some eyes to roll. For too many years, teachers have been told that they need to be “engaging” and that bad behaviour could be put down to them being “boring”. It shouldn’t matter. We are not there to entertain we are there to teach… and yet… there’s the rub.

One of the main roles of the teacher is a presenter, we present material (in one way or another) that we want pupils to learn. It is very rare to find a good presenter who doesn’t use at least a little humour. It brings the material to life, it helps you to connect to it, it keeps you excited and wanting to know more. Think about those presenters we all value on TV. Ant and Dec? Brian Cox? David Attenborough? All have a twinkle in their eye. Pupils learn better if we interest them in the content.

However, I think we also need to treat the survey with a degree of caution and be careful not to read too much into it. One of my favourite twitterers, @darynsimon, suggested that

However, I’m not sure this is quite right. The survey only shows what pupils say they value, the thing they think of. It would be an unusual child who recognised that they actually valued subject knowledge but it is easy to see that you like the teachers who make you smile. 

As a form tutor for the last 14 years I have encountered any number of pupil complaints about their teachers. There are two which are by far most likely to come up; the first is perceived injustice but the second is that “they don’t know anything”. Pupils hate feeling that their teacher is out of their depth or not confident in their subject. We are not so different. We want our presenters to be knowledgeable about their subject as well as adept at presenting material. We don’t want Ant and Dec presenting The Sky at Night or Brian Cox presenting a talent show (we all remember D-ream after all…).

Children really do value deep subject knowledge but they want that knowledge shared with a little humour, an illuminating story, an analogy to give it some context. They want us to be great presenters but they are capable of spotting when our presentation is all we have. They can see beneath the face paint. 

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