Once more, with feeling

If I asked you to recall your favourite teacher, what is it exactly that you remember? For me, remembering my favourite teacher is a little like this quote from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The teacher I recall is Mr. Humphries – senior English. Mr. Humphries rode a motorcycle and was very softly spoken.  Mr. Humphries really ‘got’ me, and I felt understood for the first time in High School. I couldn’t tell you what he taught me in terms of content (well, I may remember certain bits!), or specific lesson activities, but I can tell you how he made me feel. I felt emotionally attached to him and English for the first time and I was in a safe space emotionally in that classroom. This brings to mind 2 of my favourite fictional teachers; the warm, delightful Miss Honey from Roald Dahl’s book Matilda, and the charismatic substitute teacher in the Simpsons, Mr. Bergstrom, whom Lisa is both inspired by and utterly adores.

An early inspiration for me: Miss Honey, drawn by Quentin Blake in Roald Dahl's 'Matilda'.
An early inspiration for me: Miss Honey, drawn by Quentin Blake in Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’.

Interestingly, in a class survey that I conducted recently, with over 100 students, one of the questions was “What is the nicest thing a teacher has ever said to you?” I was saddened to read one student’s answer was “Teachers never say nice things.” This only inspired me to be even more mindful of the positivity that I bring to the classroom. In Eric Jensen’s Brain Based Learning he emphasizes that learners “pick up on the emotional state of the instructor, which either enhances or interferes with cognition. Teachers who smile, use humour, have a joyful demeanour, and take genuine pleasure in their work, generally have high-performing learners.” In essence, your attitude is as important as your content.

Jensen argues the ‘old’ way of thinking in education was “First get control of the students, then do the teaching.” Today, however, he says that neuroscientists would say, “First engage the emotions appropriately, then continue to engage them.” He states, “Engaging emotions must be intrinsic to the curriculum, rather than something done as an afterthought…we remember events that are laced with emotion.” 

In terms of classroom practice, Bob Sullo explains that it is more likely that students will remember what they have learnt if they are in a positive emotional state. Let’s look at some practical ideas about how to create this atmosphere:

  • Model enthusiasm
  • Drama
  • Role plays
  • Lively debates
  • Hands-on learning experiences
  • Guest experts
  • Laughter

These types of learning activities can increase the emotional engagement in the classroom.

Two questions for you to ponder: Who was your favourite teacher when you were a student? Also, how are you incorporating emotional connection in your classroom?

The charismatic Mr. Bergstrom says goodbye to Lisa in The Simpsons
The charismatic Mr. Bergstrom says goodbye to Lisa in The Simpsons

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2 thoughts on “Once more, with feeling

  1. What an amazing thing to reflect on! Favorite or most inspiring teacher? Hmm… I feel a bit sad actually that no one really springs to mind from high school… Perhaps Mrs Mainwaring from Ancient History? I respected her and use a couple of her strategies when teaching. Mrs Crothers from Modern History? She could see I was going through a tough time and asked if I was ok. But no one really rocked my experience of high schooling. Primary schooling, aside from my fear of maths, was joyful. Having my dad as my teacher and his forward-thinking, creative, engaging authentic tasks have influenced and inspired more of my teaching practice than any other. My mum’s teaching practice also inspires the compassion I feel for kids I teach. I remember she would be known as ‘the bag lady’ at school. Did her colleagues know those bags were often filled with little shoes, socks, jumpers, tshirts, or extra food? Keeping it in the family, I also have often said I’d do anything to have had my sister be my teacher. Magic.

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    1. Wow – thanks for this awesome comment Jac! So happy you liked the post. It’s good to keep these people in the front of our mind when teaching. It’s interesting that you recall that Mrs. Crothers asked if you were OK. This question can mean so much a teenager!!!
      Some very lucky Sydney kids will soon be fortunate enough to have you back! xoxo

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