Deck classrooms with hope and cheer

9th December 2005 at 00:00
Tis the season to be jolly. And while the halls may not quite be decked with boughs of holly there is definitely the rustle of tinsel in the air.

Remaining cheerful at this time of year is, however, no easy feat. What with school concerts and productions, over-emotional parents and fraught adolescents doing mocks, which have to be marked, it is enough to turn the best of us into unrepentant Scrooges.

But cheerfulness and a general sense of enthusiasm is one of the most important attributes of a good teacher according to most of the pupils you meet.

This anecdotal evidence was brought home to me last week when I was working with a secondary headteacher who had surveyed her pupils' attitudes towards the school. One of the questions she bravely asked them was about the relative cheeriness of their teachers. Even bolder was her decision to show the staff the results.

Many of them were shocked to discover that members of their class found them as lugubrious as Eeyore or as complaining as Moaning Myrtle. Pupils reacted much more positively to teachers they felt exuded enthusiasm and a general verve around the classroom. The importance of a teacher's positive attitude was reinforced when interviewing prospective postgraduate certificate in education students. Without exception all them said they that were inspired by teachers who were enthusiastic and passionate about what they were doing.

In a way this is hardly surprising. Those of us lucky enough to have heard Ted Wragg speak felt immediately better about the vicissitudes of life in the classroom and desired to do a better job as a result. And who could fail to feel enthusiastic about what teaching can achieve after hearing Tim Brighouse speak passionately about education? But which of us has ever been inspired to do our jobs well by the rantings of Chris Woodhead or the beratings of any number of Secretaries of State? Very few, I expect.

I suspect, though I do not know, that part of the reason we are motivated by such characters is because we are responding to the inherent optimism to be found in the cheery disposition. The belief that things can and will improve. And in this way enthusiasm is not just an accessory to improve the atmosphere, like fairy lights or paper chains, but an integral part of a view of education.

Positive teachers are more inclined to have high expectations of their pupils. They tend to believe that ability is not fixed and that what goes on between the four walls of the classroom can and will make a difference.

They are more likely to think that pupils can learn from each other and that they, as teachers, can always improve their own performance for the benefit of the pupils they teach.

Children are quick to pick up on those teachers who are negative about their potential and whose lessons simply highlight what they can't do rather than what they can. They sense when a teacher has a deficit model of learning and understandably find it discouraging.

Of course there is much more to good teaching than being cheerful but, as with Christmas, rob the classroom of any sense of hope and education can become a very tawdry process. So as we stagger towards the end of term let us take the spirit of Christmas into the new year and resolve to be jolly.

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