Teacher enthusiasm (and the perceived competence that it conveys) usually leads to greater student achievement. Children are more engaged, more willing to contribute in class discussions and more willing to discuss any problems or concerns that they may have. The question, then, is how can teachers become more enthusiastic? What tools and techniques can you learn to convey enthusiasm to your students?
When surveyed, students often point out that the “worst teachers” share a common characteristic — they are boring! Clearly, teachers who are aspiring to be judged as the “best teachers” should work, and work hard, at not being boring. Given the physics principle that two things cannot occupy the same place at the same time, one cannot be perceived as enthusiastic and, at the same time, be perceived as boring.
The enthusiastic teacher is constantly adapting and developing to accommodate further understanding of the pedagogies involved in their students learning but if you’re not enthused about a particular subject area that you're teaching then its difficult to convey enthusiasm. To appear enthusiastic about something that we're not enthusiastic about, we must become actors and learn the craft of acting.
Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic. ~Dale Carnegie
Here are some acting techniques that can be used to convey enthusiasm which I've listed here and have expanded on later in this article:
- Animation in voice.
- Animation in body.
- Dramatic entrance and exit.
- Use of props.
- Suspense and surprise.
- Creative use of classroom space.
Animation in voice
Animating your voice simply means changing it suddenly and in an exaggerated way. This could be from an excited speech to a whisper and back again. The tone of voice should be varied, as should the pitch. Your word selection should be highly descriptive, with lots of adjectives and with great variety. Enthusiastic teachers are quick to accept, praise, encourage or clarify and have many variations in their response.
Some other ways to create drama in the classroom, which will in turn make you appear more enthusiastic, include:
- Setting off a phrase or word with strategic pauses.
- Slowing down the articulation of the most important word or phrase.
- Speaking the most important words at a lower pitch.
- Speaking in a quieter tone to make the students listen more closely.
Animation in body
Body movements should be large and exaggerated. For example, swinging around, walking quickly and changing pace. Enthusiasm can be conveyed by being energetic and also by being unpredictable. Gestures should be quick and demonstrative and the head, body, arms, hands and face should all move in order to animate the body. Your eyes should be dancing and lighting up. Remember to raise your eyebrows and maintain eye contact with the class. Your facial expressions should appear vibrant and showing many types of expressions will convey enthusiasm. A broad smile always helps to make everyone feel that you're enjoying yourself and are confident in your delivery.
Dramatic entrance and exit
Entrances and exits can provide many moments of dramatic tension in the classroom. Before saying a word, your entrance should signal who you are, how you feel about being in the lesson and the reason you're there. Burst in through the door shouting "Someone has stolen the ipads" to get the children's creative juices flowing at the start of a crime scene investigation literacy lesson. I once remember an old maths teacher of ours threatening to make an exit by climbing through a high window in the classroom because we didn't understand a concept he was teaching us; that certainly showed how enthusiastic he was about his subject matter.
"But why do I have to go? School is not fun!” It should be though, shouldn't it? Introducing humour into the classroom helps to build a learning relationship between yourself and the students. It helps to win both hearts and minds. If your lessons are fun then students look forward to them and generally learn more as they're more engaged. Your lessons become positive emotional experiences that you share with your students.
Some ways to introduce humour into the classroom include:
- Laughing at yourself.
- Adding humour to worksheets.
- Putting cartoons up in the classroom.
- Sharing jokes with the pupils.
- Adding humour into narrative writing.
- Asking pupils to bring in funny books to share with the class.
Again, humour makes you appear as an enthusiastic teacher.
Using role play to introduce a topic is a great way to get your enthusiasm across. Dress up as a historical figure and act out scenes, with or without the pupils. Become an angry customer or a worried patient to put the point of view of a character across in a story that you're working on. Role play helps to move beyond any comfort zones and its also a lot of fun too.
Use of props
Props are great for grabbing your student's attention. Visual, tactile props stimulate the eye and mind and result in creativity in the classroom. Lessons in which props are used are more memorable for the students too. A model of the solar system conveys an idea much easier than trying to explain it and a 3D model of the brain is much more useful than a picture of one. Nothing sets a history lesson about World War 2 off as well as bringing in artefacts from the war and letting the pupils touch them and ask questions. Visual props are an essential item for the classroom. When you're using props, make sure that everyone can see them and make them simple enough so that students can understand what they're for.
Suspense and suprise
One way to make sure pupils engage with you is to keep them in suspense. Bring a box into the classroom, leave it at the front and tell them a story about it. Don't let them open it. Use it for creative writing - write about its history, what was inside it, how you came to happen across it. Even when you've finished with it, don't open it. Keep the legend going! Keep the pupils on a cliffhanger and make them want to anticipate what's going to happen. Bring suspense into your lessons to keep the enthusiasm going in the classroom.
Creative use of classroom space
The classroom is your stage, so make the most of it. Don't stand with your back to the audience and make sure thaut you tread all the boards on the stage. Make the classroom space creative by changing the layout of different areas, add colour and use artefacts from whatever theme that you're teaching about to add relevance too. Use nets to hang things from, peg things onto string and put hooks on the ceiling to hang things from - own the classroom space and your enthusiasm as a teacher will shine through.
Arguments against this method
Here are some arguments against using acting techniques to be more enthusiastic in the classroom:
- “I’m paid to educate them, not entertain them!"
- “If I wanted to be a clown, I would have joined the circus.”
- “Teachers who entertain students are just trying to get higher student ratings.”
- “I see entertaining as just pandering to students!”
The fact these teachers don't understand is that if they expect to educate their students, they must first attract and hold their attention — just as an actor must do with an audience.
All the tools and techniques covered above are useful in both direct and interactive instruction. Although they may be incorporated anywhere in a lesson, they are particularly useful in the opening and closing of a class and in managing the classroom to get the students enthused too.