Do I have to be a Clown?

With my role as National Partnerships Coordinator (Differentiation) I engaged our students in a survey in an endeavour to gain insight into how they see their experiences: as learners, as peers and as part of our school community.  Questions were founded on well-being, quality teaching and learning opportunities.  Students were expected to answer 49 questions selecting from a range of 5-1 (5 being Not at all through to 1 Always).  
Whilst the results identified explicit areas that need improvement, it was actually the last two written opportunities where our students reflected most powerfully. The last two questions I asked of our students were
1. People say that you go to school to learn.  What does “learning” mean to you?
2. Sometimes you feel like you have been in a class where there was a good teacher. What does a “good teacher” do?
The student responses were astute.  It was like they read the TfEL handbook! (In South Australia we have a guide to support quality teaching (SA Teaching for Effective Learning -TfEL).  This guide highlights “how” to teach as opposed to “what” to teach (Australian Curriculum).)
Whilst many students responded in sentences, some responded with a single word or two.  We collated these responses and in a staff meeting we asked that in groups, staff create a list with the top 10 teacher qualities as identified by students.
The results included the following qualities in no particular order:
Explains and re-explains/ uses different methods to explain
Fun/Uses a sense of humour
Good Behaviour Management
Knows their students
Allows Opinion/Involvement
 What struck me reading the student responses for the first time, was that the majority refer to relationships.  If we are not forming relationships with our students, then aren’t we missing the boat?
Some of our staff saw it differently.  They were frustrated by the recurring theme that students saw good teachers as “fun” or “using a sense of humour”.  Concern was raised at the expectation to have to “entertain” students to satisfy them.
This poses me with a challenge.  Whilst I had expected to come away from the session with staff acknowledging that we need to work towards improving relationships, I was left wondering what the perception of ‘fun’ might be.  When a student says that I am fun, I do not believe this is a result of me telling jokes or putting on a show (not my forte).  I do believe that the relationships that I forge with my students, enable me to understand their interests, respond to their likes and dislikes and connect their learning to their real world.  Along the way, I may be able to share a laugh, join in an interest or even, heaven forbid have a joke at my own expense! 
Does having a sense of humour mean you’re not professional? Do we really think our students require a song and dance? Aren’t they just saying “relate to me”?
No one wants to be the Boring Teacher do they?


  1. Tony Lunniss

    I felt that the fixation some teachers displayed on the ‘Fun Factor’ was a method by which the student responses as a whole, which were overwhelmingly insightful, could be trivialised and deflected. The students’ concept of ‘fun’ seemed to me to be grounded in purpose and very much within a context of learning, representing an appreciation of the importance of relationships within effective classrooms. If that means being a clown, then ‘send in the clowns’.

  2. rhonimcfarlane

    I agree Tony. It’s a challenge to encourage some teachers to reflect that their practice may not be what students need or for that matter are entitled to!

  3. Deb Merrett

    A great leaping-off platform from which to really focus on the concept of ‘engagement beyond compliance’. Just from the words alone from the students, it is clear that learning is at the heart of what they want, need and expect. We talk about the power of teachers having high expectations of students and from what your data is showing, it is also true that students having high expectations of teacher is also powerful. A useful reframe I think.

    • rhonimcfarlane

      I agree Deb, though I am not sure that our students actually have high expectations of their teachers. I think the fact that they are identifying the basic essential relationship building blocks as things that the best teachers do, this means that there are quite a few that are not achieving this at all. I would love to see the day that our survey responses from students identify much higher quality teaching. Wouldn’t it be great if our students said “when the teacher knows how I learn best and supports me to create iMovies/blogs/interviews/murals to show my understanding” etc. We have a way to go but it is thanks to the inspiration and support from the likes of you Deb that motivate our journey.

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