Teaching Is Not Entertainment … Is It?

I have just started reading Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess. http://amzn.com/0988217600. I’ll admit, I didn’t actively seek out this book.  I joined a group on Goodreads called TeacherReads and this was their first book up for discussion.

I started reading it last night, and will join the discussion when it begins next week, but I had to write about it now because I have never had such an emotional response to a piece of non-fiction, professional writing in my life.  Big call I know, but the chapter entitle ‘Rapport’ early in this book just made me agitated.

Burgess subscribes to what I like to call the ‘razzle dazzle’ approach to teaching. In my faculty, we have debated this often.  When I arrived at my current school, one of the senior teachers had a sign on his classroom wall that said “Education is NOT Entertainment”. I tended to disagree with him.  I believe that most teachers are extroverts and if they aren’t they have to work a little harder to ‘sell’ their wares in the classroom.  There has to be an element of entertainment in what you do to get your message across and maintain the focus of a relatively large group of individuals.  There are teachers that take it too far though.

As I read this chapter on rapport, I felt that Burgess was one of those teachers that steps over that invisible line where the ‘teaching’ or ‘performance’ is all about the teacher and has very little to do with the student.  In my mind this is attention seeking behaviour on the part of the teacher. And just like in school when I had one of these teachers, the message that he is trying to deliver is lost on me because of the emotional, visceral, cringe response I have to this level of performance.  My brother, who is a painter, keeps telling that this is the point of good art/performance – to illicit an emotional response, but do I want that in an educator.

As I drifted off to sleep last night, I was left thinking about my emotional response and as I deconstructed, I was able to separate my emotions from the message, and I quite like the essence of the introductory class activities Burgess used. Did it need to have the one man show acting out a plane crash, enacting spluttering, drowning and swimming to be as effective? I used to think not.

However, as I write this, I wonder would I be discussing it in such detail if I had not had such an emotional response to it.  Would I have taken the time to deconstruct it on such a deep level?  Has Burgess elicited a level of higher order thinking from me that may not have happened without my emotional response to his razzle dazzle? Isn’t this level of thinking ultimately what he is trying to get from his students.

Teaching is not entertainment … is it?

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4 thoughts on “Teaching Is Not Entertainment … Is It?

  1. poppyshel July 5, 2013 at 2:31 am Reply

    You are describing exactly my fears about this book. I’m in the same discussion group but haven’t started reading it yet, mostly as I’m worried it’s going to make me furious. I like the way you’ve thought about this though and am inspired to pick up the book (and open it) tonight. I look forward to the discussion!

  2. Corinne Campbell July 5, 2013 at 2:33 am Reply

    I haven’t started the book yet, but I share your concerns about people viewing teaching as a performance. We want to develop in our students a real, deep love of learning. I don’t think we need to become performers to do that. I’m looking forward to reading the book now, wondering what my own emotional response will be.

  3. KenS July 18, 2013 at 3:57 pm Reply

    I’m glad I clicked on the link you left on Goodreads.

    First, a disclaimer: While I’m subscribed to the “What are you reading?” teacher group on Goodreads, I’m not reading TLAP. I have too many other teaching books in my pile right now. I am interested in following the discussion, however – yes, another disclaimer – I have developed a suspicion of all “how to teach” books.

    The book I think every teacher should read is “Why Don’t Students LIke School – A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom” by Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist at University of Virginia.

    Why do I mention that book? I think Willingham gives us a way to judge when a teacher’s attempts at grabbing students’ attention crosses the line to mere entertainment. It’s so obvious, once you read it, that it’s totally unsexy, but Willingham points out that we remember what we think about. The question a teacher has to ask herself is, “What will my students remember if I pretend to be in a plane crash and drown? Will they remember the information I am trying to impart by using that performance, or will they just remember that I flailed about in front of the room?”

    I gave a copy of Willingham’s book to all my teaching teammates, and my science teacher teammate decided to change the way she used an “attention-grabber” opener at the start of class. I forget the specifics, but she used to open class with a mini-explosion from combining two chemicals. Then, hoping she had “grabbed” them, she would use the rest of the class to explain what was happening chemically.

    After reading the book, she decided to change the order of her presentation. She opened class with an explanation of what the students should be looking for, and why the chemicals reacted the way they did. She has, for a number of years now, been using exit tickets as formative assessment to guage student understanding and retention, and she said that this year those exit tickets indicated that students, in general, had far better understanding and therefore retention of the concept she was trying to teach.

    So, yes, emotion does aid in retention – we’ve known that for some time – but we have to ask ourselves, what is it my students are going to remember? Is it the information I want them to remember, or is it how much they laughed at what I was doing? Is it how and why chemicals interact the way they do, or will it be merely the bight light they saw at the start of class?

    It’s a fine line, but one well worth giving much thought to, in my opinion.

    Finally, I realize it may seem arrogant to pontificate at such length on this subject when I am not even reading TLAP. I hope this comment doesn’t come across as arrogant. I score as high on the introversion scale on Myers-Briggs as one can, and during the summer I can be content to go days without speaing to another human being. Yet I am consistently told during evaluations that the rapport I establish with students is the strongest aspect of my teaching. I know I am considered by my students to be both passionate and funny. I am constantly asking myself, am I using that passion and humor to help my students understand and remember, or am I merely entertaining them? Like I said, it’s a fine line. I worry about it.

    Thanks, by the way, for your very thoughtful and coherent response to the chapter in question from TLAP. I’ll keep reading your blog, and maybe I won’t have to read the book! 🙂

  4. […] a book that I am naturally drawn too. I read it due to Jen English’s post on her blog titled Teaching is not entertainment…Is it? and the newly developed slow chat book club #bookclubED which chose this as it’s first book. […]

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