Those are the messages hammered home by academic and comic Kevin McCarron at an intriguing Edinburgh Fringe event for teachers and lecturers.
Dr McCarron, a lecturer in American literature at Roehampton University as well as a stand-up, believes teachers can learn from comedians because both rely on continuous interaction with their audiences. In Teaching: An Improviser's Art, a four-hour seminar next Monday, he will show how provoking your audience gets them thinking.
As a stand-up, he might walk on stage and open by claiming to know what the audience is thinking. Some will disagree with his invariably controversial assertion and object, starting a flow of ideas; the same approach works in a classroom, he argues. "If you ask, `What did you make of Middlemarch?', you won't get anything," he explained. "But what if you say, `I know what you're thinking - another tedious novel written by a middle-aged woman with too much time on her hands'?"
Dr McCarron urges teachers to dump their detailed lesson plans, because they lead to regurgitation of ideas rather than original thinking. He is dismissive of teachers and academics who take pride in working all hours to prepare lessons.
"The other way of looking at it is, if you stay up late you're a coward," he said. "Teachers spend hours and hours preparing because they are terrified of being caught out." Instead, they should embrace the unpredictable, just as a comedian relishes heckling.
Teachers should not attempt to be funny, stresses Dr McCarron, who has been nominated for a national teaching fellowship by the Higher Education Academy for four years in a row. "There's nothing more horrible than watching someone 20 years older than their students trying to make them laugh," he says.
The seminar costs pound;39 and takes place at 5.30pm, August 24, at the Laughing Horse @ Edinburgh City FC. T: 0131 556 9628.