Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Emotional Component of Teaching

Doing nothing over the winter break proved to be
the right decision. Now I'm super well-rested
to the point where I even made a list of
things I need to do today and organized
my tiny desk/coffee table with everything
I need to work at home
Many people who never taught believe that teaching consists of relaying to the students sets of facts and logical arguments. This view of teaching completely disregards its emotional component. Even more important than what a teacher says in class is what she doesn't say. The non-verbal communication in the classroom is key to the success of the course. Whether you believe in it or not, the non-verbal communication will take place and it's up to you whether you will control it or not.

When I was first learning the methodology of teaching, I once shared with my supervisor - a very experienced educator - that my students hated a certain type of activity.

"Whenever I try to do this activity, it fails," I complained to the supervisor. "The students feel zero enthusiasm for it and just sit their in gloomy silence."

"How do you feel about this activity?" asked the supervisor. "Forget about the students. Do you like it?"

"Actually, I don't," I said. "I always found this type of activities to be useless. I don't know what the point of this entire kind of exercise is."

"That's your answer," my supervisor said. "The students don't hate this activity. You do. And they just mimic your attitude to it."

"Oh no," I responded. "That's not possible. I never let the students know how much I dislike it."

And this was when I learned about non-verbal communication in the classroom. When a group of people comes together inside a classroom, a certain shared emotional wavelength develops among them. Not knowing this fact doesn't make it any less real. As a teacher, you have the power to tune this wavelength to suit your own educational needs. If you don't control it consciously, it will still be there. To give an example, let's say there is a course you really don't want to teach but your department makes you teach it anyways. Don't for a moment believe that your lack of interest in this course will have no effect on the environment in the classroom. You might fake enthusiasm for it from here to eternity, and still the students will feel that something is amiss. If you know for a fact that your students are super smart, I promise that these students will do a lot better in your course than in that of a teacher who comes into the classroom believing that these same students are stupid.


Anonymous said...

Another wrinkle that I have never been able to really address is when students do not want to be there. In required math courses for other students in other majors, I sometimes get a comment saying "Dr Bellamy needs to realize that not all of us are excited about math the way he is. His enthusiasm is really boring and tiresome."

I am writing from my daughter's computer which I suspect is malware laden, so I am not going to type in my password here.

David Bellamy aka Pagan Topologist


Izgad said...

I really disliked it when the teacher had us split up into groups to talk about something. So I resist doing it myself. The problem is that this leads to me doing more lecturing.