What type of teacher are you?

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Kid gloves or iron fist?You decide what teaching style you are comfortable with, and which works for your pupils. Sue Cowley reports

There are many different ingredients that combine to make up your teaching style. You might go heavy on the sugar or prefer a more acidic, lemon-flavoured approach. Concerns about which style to adopt are often far from the mind of the inexperienced teacher: lesson planning and behaviour management seem far more important. You should develop a teaching style that works for you and your class, and this will help you develop positive relationships with your pupils.

New teachers often emulate a style they have seen working for someone else, and are then puzzled when it does not work. A deputy head playing it "strict and scary" will be utilising his position and reputation. For the less experienced, this authoritarian style is a recipe for confrontation.

Another mistake is aiming to be the children's friend. Some teachers can manage this, but it's a tricky balance to maintain. At first, it will serve you far better to keep some distance between yourself and your classes.

Various subtle factors combine to make a teaching style. The way you use your voice, face and body will play a part; the content and delivery of lessons will come into the equation. Inevitably, your appearance and personality will matter. An outgoing, 6ft, rugby playing, 24-year-old with a natural sense of comic timing is bound to teach differently from a shy and retiring, 5ft, ballroom dancing, 47-year-old.

Although you cannot work totally against type, you can certainly play a different character if you choose. The style that you end up with might be a combination of your personality (humorous, relaxed), but with a sprinkling of attributes you don't normally manage to sustain (calm, controlled).

Teaching style is not a fixed entity. One of the keys to success is the ability to adapt your style to differing situations. Many variables will come into play: the type of school, the age of the children, the mood of the class, the time of day, week or year. With experience, you will learn to alter your style to suit each moment.

It's hard to analyse your style subjectively, so ask a friend or colleague to watch you teach, and discuss the positives and negatives afterwards. You could ask a few members of your class for feedback. Alternatively, if you are brave, why not videotape yourself teaching and view yourself from the children's perspective?

When it comes to what the pupils prefer in terms of teaching style, "firm but fair" sums it up. They want a teacher who is in control, but who is willing to be flexible when necessary. Start off by aiming to get these basics right, and as you become more experienced, you will be able to add some spice to the mixture.

Sue Cowley is the author of numerous teaching books, including 'How to Survive your First Year in Teaching'


Dan's lessons are full of humour. He's relaxed enough to banter with the pupils, but he can silence them with a word or a look when needed. He's willing to undermine the image of teacher as authoritarian figure - to be a bit subversive at times. The pupils like and respect him: a tricky balance to achieve.

Dan's Irish accent and colloquialisms add to his charm: "That's enough of that smiling malarkey" or "Now, here's a thing".

There's a touch of the storyteller about Dan as he paces the room, using face, hands and voice to engage and energise the class. Laughter and learning unite in a winning combination.

Dan McGilloway is head of history at Norton Hill school . He has been teaching for six years and this is his second job. He enjoys working with exam groups because of the satisfaction of seeing them succeed. He also teaches PSHE and RE


Seeing Rachel at work brings the expression "crystal clear" to mind.

She knows exactly what she wants from her class, and insists that high standards of work and behaviour are met. Her lessons are packed with clearly structured activities, broken down into small, achievable chunks.

She incorporates a range of well organised resources. In Rachel's lessons, every child has the chance to learn and to succeed.

Rachel's eyes move around the room, checking for every pupil's attention.

Her voice plays a crucial part, with each word enunciated and key terms emphasised to aid understanding. She adapts pace and volume to calm or enliven the class. This is the craft of teaching at its best.

Rachel Green teaches science at Norton Hill school, Bath and North East Somerset, where she began her career three years ago. She enjoys working with Year 9 classes. She also teaches environmental studies at A-level


Watching Chris teach is inspirational. This is no slog through the curriculum: it's a rollercoaster ride through a multimedia science park. In a 50-minute lesson, he uses an interactive whiteboard, video, practical demonstrations, an experiment outdoors, and a written round up. His pupils do more than learn: they genuinely understand.

Chris has a passion for his subject: he engages the pupils so fully that they don't think about misbehaving. He can get away with sharp commands - "Oi" to an off task pupil, a click of the fingers - as the lesson pace demands it. Pupils feel relaxed, but play an active role. The multimedia magician has us all hooked.

Chris Gidzewicz is head of physics at Norton Hill school, where hehas worked since 1991. He loves classes he can have fun with. He teaches music technology and astronomy, and won a national award for science teacher ofthe year in 2003

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