As learners ourselves, we can all remember “good” and “bad” teachers. Now try to picture those “good” teachers – what made them so successful? The chances are that it wasn’t the materials they used or their choice of methodology but something else – something much simpler, more human and innate – their manner. Put quite simply the way they behaved in class showed not only their enthusiasm for their chosen profession but their love of the learners themselves.
Now, if we were to try and define (teaching-) manner, we would probably identify two broad components – the verbal and the non-verbal. The verbal covers what we say i.e. the words we choose and the way in which we deliver them while the non-verbal covers the body-language and facial expressions we use to mark and reinforce the message.
If you had to choose the most important – the verbal or the non-verbal, which would it be? The answer lies in that age-old saying “it’s not what you say but the way that you say it”. Yes, body-language and facial expression are the key ingredients of “teaching” manner – get those right and everything else should more or less fall into place. Sounds silly? It isn’t! We all instinctively know when we are being lied to yet often the liar sounds convincing – what gives him/her away are the non-verbal signals which we sub-consciously pick up and interpret.
So what makes a “good” teacher? – Manner both verbal and non-verbal.
And what is the most important ingredient of “teaching” manner? – The non-verbal.
Now, what constitutes a good non-verbal manner in the classroom?
First and foremost, movement. Most teachers move around the class at some time during the lesson but when do they move and why? More often than not, when teachers have something important to say, they address the class from the front and tend to move towards/around the board. We tend to use movement around the class as a way of controlling and monitoring learners’ behaviour and progress. What message does this send to the learners? Perhaps what we should be doing is using our movement to attract attention to the things that we say – walking and talking in such a way that we carry the message to the learners and reinforce its importance by delivering it close to/among them.
When it comes to body-language, most of us will reinforce what we say at some time with an appropriate gesture or movement of the hands. What we do with our arms and hands is also key to developing a positive class atmosphere and conveying this sense of enthusiasm to the learners. None of us would stand in front of learners with our arms-folded – a wall between you and them, between your message and their understanding but how many of us hold course books or other classroom materials like “shields” to deflect learner interaction? The key to successful body-language in the classroom is not holding things – in other words, if you pick something up, remember to put it down. With both hands free, we are then more than likely to use open-arm inclusive gestures to make the learners feel involved and mark signals indicating the important parts of the verbal message.
And what about the verbal message? Use your voice! Not just its volume but its variety in tone, pace, and tempo – in other words, make music with your voice. If you sound interested and energized, the curiosity of the learners will be aroused and they will follow. Think carefully about the words you use in the classroom. Our profession, like many others, is characterized by its own specialized vocabulary (e.g., the language of grammar description such as “passive voice”, “gerund” etc) which makes the description of what we teach possible. But how appropriate and useful is such language to the learners themselves? I mean would a doctor say to a patient that he has a compound fracture of the lower tibial or that he has a broken leg? Avoid using the “language of grammar” in the classroom – it may sound good but it does not help learners understand the language being taught.
Remember, you may have the best materials and a million diplomas but if you are not enthusiastic as a teacher, the learners won’t follow you. Preparation before a class is important but it does not replace enthusiastic delivery.