- Dr Seuss and quality teaching Part 1: ‘Today you are you’
- What are the qualities of an outstanding teacher?
- Essential teaching practices – do they exist?
In yesterday’s article, Professor Nan Bahr considered the positive personal attributes classroom practitioners need alongside the competencies outlined in accredited teacher education programs. Part 1 looked at the importance of humour. Here, she returns to her complete set of 40th anniversary Dr Seuss books to explore teacher enthusiasm.
The best teachers are enthusiastic. Mr Dork from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, introduced in yesterday’s article, was completely featureless when considering his enthusiasm. He was portrayed as bored with teaching, bored with the subject matter, and bored with the students.
Yet, enthusiasm is rather easy to convey. Teachers’ enthusiasm for the learning, for engaging with students, with simply being active consumers and producers of information can be contagious. Dr Seuss tells us in his last publication for his career:
‘Oh the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.’ (Seuss, 1990)
The sense of wonderment, of geeky excitement, is captured in all of the Seuss books.
Enthusiasm as a catalyst for student engagement
Teachers who are enthusiastic model the excitement for learning that captures those at the cutting edge of their field. Such an example can be the catalyst for student engagement. Patrick, Hisley, & Kempler (2000) have shown clearly that an enthusiastic teacher can have a direct and positive impact on the intrinsic motivation of students to learn. There is a long line of research that has laid the foundation for Patrick et al’s finding. In 1992 Brigham, Scruggs, and Mastropieri demonstrated that there was significant improvement in academic achievement for students who were taught by enthusiastic teachers. There was also a clear impact on their classroom behaviour with a substantial decrease in off-task activity. Clearly, enthusiasm on the part of the teacher reaps great rewards for the learners. However … buyers beware.
Enthusiasm is not about ‘performing’
The maintenance of a level of enthusiasm requires a lot of energy. For teachers this sustainability of the required energy levels can be extraordinarily demanding, and there is a point of diminishing returns when the required energy for enthusiastic teaching outstrips their personal resources.
Teachers who attempt to manufacture enthusiasm out of a limited energy store can appear to be disingenuous in their enthusiasm, which can breed some cynicism in the students. This cynicism can, unfortunately, undermine the serious attempts by the teacher to engage the students.
My advice? Enthusiasm is not about performing. It is about conveying a deep interest in the concepts of the discipline being taught. It includes purposeful interaction with the students as they learn, and the quiet (or loud) celebration of student achievement. Enthusiasm is a way of being a teacher, not a performative event. This, too, is an element of personal professional development that needs support from the very first steps into initial teacher education. Teacher candidates need to embrace the notion that they need to start as they plan to go on, and strong careers are built on sustainable practices.
Back to Dr Seuss. When it comes to bringing positive personal attributes to a teacher’s professional engagement with their teaching, nothing is truer than this next offering from Seuss:
‘You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...
Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you.’ (Seuss, 1990)
The quality teacher knows this, and the difference between basic effectiveness and robust leading of learning and learners emerges from the mindful and professional combination of a range of positive personal attributes such as humour and enthusiasm. There are more of course, perhaps for another article.
However, I urge teachers to lighten the mood, be quick to smile, laugh with the students, find the funny in the content and, above all, find your own nuanced and sustainable approaches to demonstrating your enthusiasm. We need to look beyond the competency framework for effectiveness and the ball is in each and every teacher’s court:
‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.’ (Seuss, 1971)
If you’d like to read a review of the current context for teacher accreditation in Australia, and consider my model for quality in teaching please download Australian Education Review 61, Building quality in teaching and teacher education (Bahr & Mellor, 2016).
Bahr, N., & Mellor, S., (2016). Building quality in teaching and teacher education. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Melbourne Vic.
Brigham, F.J., Scruggs, T.E., & Mastropieri, M.A. (1992). Teacher enthusiasm in learning disabilities classrooms: effects on learning and behavior. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.
Patrick, B.C., Hisley, J., & Kempler, T. (2000). “What's everybody so excited about?”: The effects of teacher enthusiasm on student intrinsic motivation and vitality. The Journal of Experimental Education, 68(3), 217-236.
Seuss, G. (1971). The Lorax! Random House Books for Young Readers, New York.
Seuss, G. (1990). Oh the places you’ll go! Random House Books for Young Readers, New York.