- Choose how you dress
- Consider how you stand
- Be dynamic
So, you understand the importance of having a teaching persona, and have a good idea of what you want to do. How do you actually do it though? You’re going to be in front of a class of thirty teenagers tomorrow morning and you’re going to try and be a completely different person! How are you ever going to pull it off?
It’s a good thing that psychologists have been studying this exact thing. The real trick to successfully pulling off a teaching persona is to believe it yourself, and there are a range of tricks that you can use. You may have heard of the research that has been done around smiling – that if you smile, it can actually make you happier. You’ve also probably heard about the completely anecdotal evidence around “fake it ‘till you make it”, which are true words of wisdom for teachers.
Tricking yourself into believing your persona really is the easiest way to make it work. You need to be incredibly consistent and truly believe that this is who you are for the lesson, and here are a couple of tips for how you could get into this headspace:
Choose how you dress.
This is a tried and true method in business. I’m sure you’ve heard of “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” and if not, you’ve probably at least heard “suit up!”
This is a very real effect regardless of what profession you’re in or what you’re trying to do. Many people found this working from home; that they would find it incredibly difficult to be productive during the day, until they started wearing their work clothes again. Staying in your PJs all day may be one of the perks of working from home, but it can be really hard to get into work-mode if you do this. Likewise, it can be really hard to wind-down from work to go to bed if you don’t get back in your PJs.
Having a job as busy as teaching, I would often come home at the end of the day exhausted. I would have a shower, put on some comfy clothes, and sit down to have a snack as soon as I got home. I found it incredibly hard to get back off that couch to do the dishes, and much take-out was had. I found that if I stayed in my work clothes for just another hour while I did some housework and cooked a quick dinner to have later, I could get everything done with a lot less anguish than if I was trying to do it once I was clean and in track pants.
If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume that you know what kind of teacher you want to be. You’ve thought long and hard about it and at least know whether you want to be gentle and approachable, funny and entertaining, or the expert in your field. Carefully picking out a wardrobe based on how you want to come across will not only send this signal to your students, but also to your brain as well. It’s harder to feel gentle and personable in a tailored suit, but also like a highly educated expert in cargo shorts.
Consider how you stand.
I’m going to extend this to walking, talking, and everything else that you do in a classroom, but standing is of particular importance. The first thing that you need to do may be a little uncomfortable, but it is to be aware of exactly how you stand. Know exactly where your hands are, and what they’re doing. Think about what they’re not doing. What they should be doing. Uncomfortable yet?
Seriously though, just like with clothes, we convey an awful lot with body language. Not only do our students pick up on this, but our own brains do as well. I had a lot of trouble feeling confident enough to tell off students for misbehaving, so what I did is I started crossing my arms. I would straighten my back, widen my stance, and cross my arms while I was talking to them. I would also try to give off similar vibes while just standing or walking by including a hands-on-hips pose, and clasping my hands behind my back.
I honestly don’t know how much of an impact these individual actions had on my students, but they had a profound impact on me. I struggle to say that my students noticed these actions in particular because just by doing them, so much about my demeanour changed. If you want to come across as a certain type of person, consider what you do with your hands, feet, and face. Consider how you walk, and whether you’re smiling or frowning. Manipulating these things can be quite simple, and really help you manipulate the more complex parts of your body language.
Changing your clothes and putting your hands on your hips is easy. What isn’t easy, is still looking like an actual person and not a caricature. You want to make sure you’re doing these things, yes; but you need to adapt them to each unique situation and context.
You don’t want to be the teacher who is always laughing and joking when your student tells you that their pet died on the weekend. Likewise, you don’t want to be stern and serious when your team is winning sports day. These come across as ingenuine, and that is the last thing that you want your students to think because it can quickly break down trust.
You need to come up with a teaching persona that has room for all of this nuance. You need to be able to adapt it to different situations while still making sense. This is the true art of teaching; to not just be an actor, but have an entirely different personality stashed away that you can whip out when you see your student at the grocery store.
How to make your teaching persona work.
Having a strong teaching persona is good for you and good for your students. It allows you to keep at an arm’s length while still being exactly what your students need. The trick is that you need to really care about it. You need to craft your teaching persona; test run a couple of ideas, go back and tweak, and sometimes ditch an idea entirely. Having a teaching persona that works will make your job a lot easier, as well as help you be a lot better at your job.