Saturday, 3 November 2012

#ELTchat summary: How much is teaching a performance? The implications of keeping up appearances to maintain student satisfaction

How much is teaching a performance? 
The implications of keeping up appearances to maintain student satisfaction

There was an element of indecision about Wednesday 31st October's lunchtime  #ELTchat. As the question setter was not present, those present were left to interpret the topic.

Yohimar: Today is about performance teaching. But what is it, I wonder?
Marisa_C: Are we talking about performance teaching or something else? Performance teaching as in: Teacher at centre stage prancing around being exciting
vs.  being quiet and laid back.
Marisa_C: Or, How do we balance performance teaching with quiet laid back
learner-centred moments? 
OUPELTGlobal: Are we talking performance as entertainment value in the classroom?
Marisa_C: Everyone is talking about performing in class, but is it about keeping
up appearances? Like looking professional - dress code, distance or not to Ss?
teflgeek: My interpretation of the question is balancing learner needs, wants
and expectations.
This led to the discussion going down a number of different paths.

Shaun asked how many of the teachers present were performers. The answer was: quite a few!
AlexandraKouk :Teacher as a performer- useful analysis

esolcourses and Shaunwilden suggested that we all play to the crowd from time to time.
teflgeek suggested getting to know the audience before deciding on your role. Wiktor_K said that outside work he rarely behaves the way he does in the classroom.  jo_cummins admitted that the performance adrenaline is what keeps her going on
her ‘off’ days and I feel sure that many of us can relate to that. She also mentioned
the fact that there seem to be a number of people with a drama background in teaching! teflerinha said there was an element of ‘putting on the teacher’s hat’ but that
students should be centre stage.
prese1 said that she didn’t always feel cheerful going into class, but you have to paint the smile on and get on with it. As esolcourses put it; business as usual!
teflerinha, in receipt of a Drama degree herself, thought that teaching was actually more like directing than performing. She found that accepting criticism on her performance was the biggest crossover from her drama course. Julian_LEnfant suggested that the role might be that of Conductor, which teflerinha disliked, as she thought that most of the work was done offstage, but Shaun made the point that a conductor allows individual instruments to be highlighted.  
esolcourses agreed that a performance background could help with issues of confidence. She also believes that audience participation skills are needed, as it is a difficult skill to learn to communicate with a group. teflgeek benefits from his drama classes as it helps him think about voice, posture, how to stand etc.
Julian_LEnfant: Don't we also play to our strengths? I was possibly more fun as a younger inexperienced teacher but have more substance now.  Does this mean that new teachers have the monopoly on ‘fun’ over substance, or is this an overgeneralisation?

theteacherjames was suspicious of the word ‘Performer’ and doesn’t believe it is
advisable to perform in the classroom. He looks for honesty in the classro
and thought that performance suggested the opposite. He is not against drama
techniques being used, per se, and OUPELTGlobal agreed that a good teacher needs to
perform to a certain degree, but hopes teaching goes beyond that.  
teflerinha: but it can help novice teachers to put on a persona  (even if not 'honest').  
She thought that a ‘fake it till you make it’ persona was helpful
kevchanwow thought that being warm and positive in class could mean that a teacher
is not  actually100% sincere, but that they would be being 100% professional
teflgeek said it was more about putting your game face on.
esolcourses thought James might prefer to look at it as presentation skills and
classroom management. She said that, as a drama graduate, she found that many
people adopt a 'teaching personality’. esolcourses also thought that a larger than life,
more confident version of one’s own personality would work, and not give the
impression of beingfake!
It was agreed that, provided the character was based on the real person, then rapport
would develop.
SophiaKhan4 suggested that it just meant having a teaching personality
separate from the personal one, which didn’t necessarily mean putting on a performance.
James said that his personality didn’t change and that he felt he was a better teacher
because of it.
SophiaKhan4 said that she became more ‘serious and professional’ in class.
teflerinha mentioned that she was more confident in the classroom than with
groups of people in real life.
kevchanwow suggested that, as teachers, we will be required to wear a different hat on
occasion, as we serve as the communicative model for our students.
jo_cummins noted that her teaching 'persona' is just herself on a good day!
James also worried about the performance detracting from, or becoming more
important than, the teaching.
teflgeek agreed that style over substance was to be avoided, and Shaunwilden
and esolcourses were quick to agree that those who entertain can miss the teaching
point, and an entertaining lesson does not necessarily equate to the students
learning much. theteacherjames thought that having to be ‘engaging’ all the time
seemed like a distraction to him and OUPELTGlobal thought that it was
unnecessary pressure to try to be entertaining all the time.
Yearinthelifeof: There's a difference between being a good teacher and being a good
OUPELTGlobal suggested that it might be a good idea to view the discussion in terms
of ‘performance skills’ rather than performing. michaelegriffin agreed that performance
skills are very helpful as the students are more likely to pay attention.
Pysproblems81thinks that managing 'performance' is a useful skill for a teacher – but
that doesn't mean it has to be full-on all the time. Esolcourses thinks that using
performance skills to motivate and interest students can be productive.
Julian_LEnfant: We can train and develop a teacher's teaching ability/knowledge,
but coaxing personality out of someone is soooo hard. Prese1agreed: It would be
difficult for a quiet person to be an extrovert in class.
Marisa_C noted that quiet teachers are often in a better position to get students
to participate more.
Kevchanwow: When I keep my mouth shut, but keep my heart open, students rush to
fill the space with language
Marisa_C and SophiaKhan4 agreed that different teachers achieve rapport in different
 ways and that one size doesn’t fit all.
teflgeek asked whether a teaching performance is just putting aside the detritus of the
day so that it doesn’t negatively affect ones classes. It is also a means of keeping a
professional distance such as other professions do. It is wise to remember that the  
teacher is not supposed to be the star of the show and that the students should be centre
stage. Perhaps it is just another tool for the teacher to pull out as and when needed?
OUPELTGlobal suggested that teachers should be able to perform AND teach, rather
 than OR!
kevchanwow and Shaunwilden talked about cognitive dissonance, where our feelings  
tend to align with our behaviour and that perhaps if you act warm and positive you
will actually end up feeling like that, and teflerinha agreed.
 jo_cummins said: Often I'll go into class feeling a bit rubbish but put a brave face on
and come out feeling better.
teflgeek told us that his school was popular because their lessons were more fun than
the competition.
He agreed that fun is subjective, but that he hopes his learners have fun at the same
time as learning.
It is also wise to consider the context and the type of students, as young learners are
different from EAP students.
As theteacherjames said: Context is always king in our business!
There was a bit of grumbling about the fact that some popular teachers use fun
and personality and get glowing recommendations and the support of school
directors, due to producing the ‘bums on seats’ effect.
It was mentioned that some teens are happy to avoid any real work and will happily  
settle for an easy, entertaining, lesson. Students may then unfairly measure other,
hardworking, teachers against the entertainers, not always being aware that there is
little substance to the lesson, although there are some students who are able to see
through the smokescreen, in some cases better than the DoS!
Those present were asked whether honesty in the classroom is essential, positive or
risky. The consensus was that it depends on the reason for honesty- if it is in order to
treat them as adults, then it could be beneficial. Many of the participants agreed that
it depends on how it is handled. If it is an excuse to offload your problems- then no,
 - we are a channel for learning, and our stuff can get in the way -teflerinha.
If by honesty we mean being able to admit when we don’t know something, then yes-
students are generally sympathetic.
SophiaKhan4 thought that some distance was a good thing and that it wasn’t always
a good idea to share personal information with students.
Is it okay to play devil’s advocate?
So the question is: how much of your true self do you take into the classroom?
The answer was clear; everything except our negative feelings, although it is context
and group dependent.
                         What would make up a performance skill set?
  • Advice, guidance and entertainment (if needed to fill the teaching objectives)
  • Supplying what is required for each group
  • Looking the part: wearing a suit when teaching Business English, for example
  • Knowing how to use your voice
  • The ability to command attention and get students to listen
  • Balancing teaching with student-centred time
  • Maintaining a positive attitude of good will for students to respond to
  • Managing the flow of energy in the group
  • Smiling; it makes students feel happier
  • Ability to be unruffled and laid back
  • Being principled, ethical,culturally aware and open to new ideas
                                         And then, with any luck-
                 the performance will take care of itself-
                      and the students will be satisfied


  1. Thanks for summarising this rather rambling conversation, Sue!
    Just to clarify- I think it is very important to be yourself with the students, not to put on any persona or mask. However, I think, especially when we first start out and have so many anxieties about teaching (or at least I did!), it can be helpful to 'fake it til you make it'. What I mean by this is that if you have to pretend a little to be confident, open and warm (because inside you are still petrified), that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as often doing this means that you will start to feel that way for real- in the same way that smiling can often make you feel happy as much as feeling happy makes you smile.

    1. Thanks Rachael. I got the sense of what you were saying- you rambled a bit less than the others :-) It did take a bit of unravelling, though.

  2. Sue. Having digested most of the chat, I decided that I am more of a performer to begin with, as Rachael suggested, because of the nerves and anxieties associated with teaching a new class. I was also more of a performer in my earlier TEFL days. As time has gone on I have become more genuine, more confident about what I am actually teaching and the lesson aims, rather than just trying to get through the lesson. I used to want students to simply like me, but I want them to respect me... and thus the quality of the teaching, hopefully, has gone up, and the actor's mask has dropped... I start teaching again, tomorrow, after a 16 month break.. and I'm not going to lie about who I am and why the students are there - to learn - not to be entertained. Phil

  3. Thanks Sue for a great summary. It made me think of how I am as a teacher - I have been called an actress in the past, but I would never think so myself. I guess I was more of a performer at the beginning of my career, and would echo what Rachael and Phil have said. Now I am much more comfortable simply being myself. The most important thing for me is to gain the respect and confidence of a new class, and then the rest usually sorts itself out naturally.

    The outline of a performance skill set is really helpful. Thanks!

    btw I love the apple cloud :-)