Everyone acknowledges that teaching is not what it used to be. There’s a lot more pressure on educators today than there has ever been. We all know the comic strip:
Back in the day, teachers were respected by students (at least to their face) or the student faced the consequences – corporal punishment kept kids in line. Nowadays, teachers are meant to be engaging and innovative. Punishments appear to have limited impact and the only way to prevent behavioural issues is by providing an environment where students are actively involved in whatever activities the teacher is running.
So, how do you do this? Teaching is often likened to acting. To quote (out of context) T.S. Eliot, we “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”. However, it is probably more accurate to say teachers are like magicians. Not sold? Check out the following list of terminology associated with magic and how these terms apply to the classroom.
- Ditch – to secretly get rid of an object or gimmick.
Teachers have to be flexible. You can have the best lesson preparation in the world but if you are determined to follow that plan regardless of the students’ mindset then you are going to struggle. Things happen. Students might have issues going on at home, they may have just run a 3k time trial in Phys Ed, there might’ve been a fight at recess, they might be tired, they might be hyperactive, etc.
If you can’t recognise the mood of your students and modify your plans to suit then you’re not going to have success. It doesn’t matter how finely tuned your lesson plan is, if the kids aren’t receptive to it (for whatever reason) you’ll be ice-skating up hill for the whole period. You need to be able to change things up on the fly in order to have the most success.
- Force – where a card or other object is made to be selected by the spectator, despite the appearance of a free choice.
Modern students like to be involved in the lesson design. It’s why PBL is so successful, because students get to make a choice about what they do in a system that is generally too rigid to allow that to happen. Sometimes in the classroom you get the ability to incorporate choices in to the lesson, other times you fake it.
You might hold votes on when assignments are due or what text you analyse. You might get groups to choose their presentation topic. You might even get students to choose what happens in a period. However, often you will modify the conditions so the choice they make is what you intended from the get go BUT, because they were involved in the decision, they feel more invested in the outcome.
- Impromptu – a trick that can be performed at a moment’s notice, usually with everyday objects and little or no preparation.
Be flexible! Remember? Sometimes you’ll find yourself with 10 minutes of unplanned class time. You might finish an activity early or you might have to wait in your classroom until it’s time to go to an assembly. Whatever the case might be, sometimes you have time to kill.
I like to have a few activities up my sleeve that I pull out in these instances. My go-to, and one I often use at the start of a lesson to keep students occupied while I take the roll, is the 9 letter word puzzle. I’ll choose a word connected to our current topic and have the students see how many words they can come up with using those letters. I’ll award some sort of prize for the kid/s who finish with the most words.
Having these sorts of things handy, that only need a whiteboard marker and/or pen and paper, can be the difference between calm and chaos.
- Misdirection – psychological techniques for controlling attention.
This! In any given classroom there are a thousand distractions. Being able to redirect students’ attention from potential distraction is an art form.
- Patter – The dialogue used in the performance of an effect. Patter styles may differ from magicians to magicians – some prefer a serious patter, while others opt for a light hearted humorous patter to relax the audience and try to catch them off guard.
Some teachers are super serious, others are lighthearted larrikins. Whatever persona people adopt in the classroom, they do so because it suits their character and they’ve determined it works for them. For some teachers, their demeanour depends on the class’ age and academic ability.
- Sleight – a secret move or technique.
Despite the fact that classrooms are public spaces, not everything that happens needs to be public knowledge. Confronting a student about their misbehaviour can often occur as a private conversation, preventing it from escalating into something much larger than it needs to be. Printing materials on coloured paper for the class can allow you to cater for a dyslexic student without drawing attention to their disability. And… education doesn’t have to be overt. Games and interactive activities can be used to teach concepts without bogging students down in book learning or ‘chalk and talk’.
^ these aren’t the teachers I was meaning when I said that educators are magic but you see it now, right?