“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” — Marshall McLuhan
Teachers wear many hats: they are guides, counsellors, facilitators, coaches, mentors, caregivers, and community leaders. They play many roles, including that of an accountant, designer, judge, tour guide, cheerleader, social butterfly, Big Brother, and yes, sometimes even cop. However, it is imperative that teachers start seeing themselves in another role; — teachers have got to start seeing themselves as entertainers.
When teachers see themselves as entertainers then the classroom is no longer a classroom. It becomes a stage. The students are no longer students; they are the audience. The lesson is no longer merely a lesson; it becomes a show. And, if teachers want their audience to come back again and again, day in and day out, then they’ve got to keep the show entertaining.
Let’s explore this notion of teachers as entertainers and lessons as shows. What do we mean when we say the teacher must be an entertainer? Are teachers expected to behave as clowns and jesters for the amusement of their pupils? Are they expected to perform funny antics and silly capers simply to capture the attention of the class? No, of course not.
Being silly and constantly using humour may get a few laughs — but it is tricky to sustain that along with a clear focus on learning. What teachers want is for their students to focus. What they want is for their students to enjoy what they are doing. What they want is for students to leave the classroom with a sense of fulfilment — content in the knowledge that the one hour they spent with their teacher was a productive learning experience.
So how does the teacher become an entertainer? What tricks and tropes can we learn from the entertainment world that we can apply to an educational setting and a classroom environment? Here are three things to keep in mind if a teacher wishes to become an entertainer.
1. Awe and Wonder
The key words for the teacher-as-entertainer to keep in mind are “Awe” and “Wonder”. Children are naturally curious. They have an innate desire to learn. They want to be impressed. However, they are surrounded by so many stimuli that are competing for their attention: fancy gadgets, television commercials, computer games, social media, and so much more. The 21st-century teacher has to acknowledge this and recognise that they are competing with a brash, fast-paced, exciting world outside the four walls of the classroom. If they want to keep their students engaged, excited, and enthusiastic, then they have to keep their students entertained and fill them with a sense of awe and wonder.
Of course, awe and wonder cannot be an ongoing experience — one cannot constantly be in a state of awe and wonder — or at least, it is very difficult, and not quite common. However, what the teacher can do is create a regular sense of anticipation, optimism, and purpose.
Jason Silva defines Awe as an experience of such perceptual vastness that we literally have to reconfigure our mental models of the world to assimilate it.
Much as we’d like to believe otherwise, the fact is that our high schools are not places where students experience awe. Students spend most of their time within concrete walls with 25–40 students in a room, seeing the same set of teachers day after day, learning the same subjects day after day, using more or less the same pedagogical strategies day after day. This is the very definition of the mundane and the banal. Far from inspiring awe, it inspires revulsion in many.
The other keyword to keep in mind is “Engagement.” It is trite to say it, but teachers who lead dull lessons will not keep their students engaged. Many teachers complain about how classroom behaviour is getting worse; how students these days cannot concentrate. The simple fact is this: if behaviour is bad and if kids cannot concentrate, it is not solely their fault. Often, it is also the fault of the teacher.
It is not uncommon to see the same group of students torment one teacher and make her life miserable, only for them to be absolutely engrossed and enthusiastic with the next teacher. The fact is, kids are easily bored. When students are not challenged, when they are not motivated, when they are not inspired, when they are not entertained — that is when they resort to undesirable behaviour. And undesirable behaviour refers not just to a rude and rowdy class, but also to a passive and disinterested class.
Think of the best entertainers: musicians, magicians, stage actors, street performers, illusionists, Pentecostal priests, stand-up comedians, mime artists — everyone from Elvis and Michael Jackson, to Evel Kenevel and Houdini, to Kris Angel and George Carlin. They kept their audience engaged — by their charisma, by the force of their personality, and by ensuring their audience never got bored. How did they do that? Well, they kept things interesting for their audience by never repeating their acts. They were keenly aware of the importance of novelty.
There is nothing more dispiriting and soul-destroying than the teacher who shows up to class every day and follows the same routine, the same teaching methods, and the same strategies. It is a recipe for boredom and it is absolutely unpardonable for teachers to inflict that upon their students.
Inflict is a strong word. It implies force and violence. I use the word deliberately. Everything we have learned from contemporary neuroscience tells us that the brain craves novelty. The worst punishment for a prisoner is not life imprisonment, it’s solitary confinement. The lack of stimulus, the lack of novelty, the lack of surprise, can destroy the enthusiasm of even the most ardent student.
We could make a parallel between a concert audience and a classroom full of students. Students show up with expectations. Most of them want to learn. When a teacher arrives with a well-planned lesson that’s challenging, includes adequate differentiation, caters to the learning needs of the students, and is adapted to their learning styles, then students will be inclined to appreciate the teacher’s efforts and will enjoy the lesson.
So, how can the teacher include novelty?
1. Include energisers and ice-breakers at the start of a lesson
2. Use different starters and plenary activities for each lesson
3. Employ a range of questioning strategies
4. Use music to set the mood
5. Use videos and other multi-sensory stimuli
6. Use technology and a range of apps
7. Integrate individual work, paired work, group work, and collaborative work
8. Keep lesson activities brief and snappy
9. Ensure movement
10. Make cross-curricular links; promote STEAM /interdisciplinary learning
11. Use a range of games, quizzes, and formative assessments
12. Use stories, anecdotes, and narratives
13. Vary speaking tone and apparel
14. Change the classroom setting
15. Cater to the multiple intelligences in the classroom
There are, of course, teachers who will be affronted by this notion of teachers as entertainers. They choose to deliberate misunderstand what it means and twist and mangle the idea so as to denigrate it all the more. You can see them harrumphing with indignation and protesting that if they wanted to be a clown they’d have joined the circus. They sardonically dismiss any attempt to change their teaching practice by labelling such attempts to entertain students as “Edutainment.” You can feel their contempt when they use the word.
However, these are your bland, boring teachers who are better suited to be clerks, accountants, and bureaucrats. They should be nowhere near children.
Writing for ‘The Guardian’, Peter Beadle points out that, “Planning exciting lessons is a time-consuming activity. Vast swathes of a teacher’s time in an over-regulated education system is spent proving they are doing the job, rather than actually doing it.”
This is true. At the moment, an inordinate amount of a teacher’s time is spent on doing admin work. If we want teachers to deliver more exciting lessons, the focus in schools has to be on finding innovative and meaningful ways to reduce teacher workload so that they have more time to engage, excite, inspire awe and entertain.