The teaching profession requires that teachers wear many hats. They must be an instructor, friend, social worker, police person, guidance counselor, and cheerleader. Through that all, they also need to have enthusiasm. Many would wonder why that matters. Does it impact learning or other outcomes? In fact, it seems to be far more important than many would assume.
The word itself is fraught with meaning. Its Greek origins indicate divine inspiration, a state of otherworldly ecstasy. In such a state, teachers would be capable of nearly anything, including fulfilling their duties as teacher. Since the profession has so many disparate, and coinciding, demands it is easy to see how extra-human intervention might be helpful, if not necessary.
Though this may sound like philosophical speculation, an enthusiastic teacher has a very positive, measurable impact on their preschool students. In fact, studies have shown that when teachers are actively engaged with their profession and all that it entails, students become likewise engaged. One outcome of this engagement is lower rates of cheating.
Studies have found that when students perceive their teacher as motivated, they reciprocate with their own motivation. When teachers are perceived as being uncaring or unmotivated students tend to mirror that attitude, as well. Students have been quoted as saying that if their teacher is not enthusiastic about being in the classroom, then that devalues the learning experience. Thus, students are more likely to cheat on tests. After all, if the teacher doesn’t care about the material or teaching it, then why should students care about learning?
However, how does a teacher become enthusiastic? More importantly, how does he convey this enthusiasm to classroom after packed classroom of students? After all, it seems that what is required goes beyond a mere love of one’s topic. Researchers who place more emphasis on the nuts and bolts of, say, social studies are not necessarily enthused or easily able to inspire students in a way that deters cheating and fosters learning.
What seems to be needed is perhaps less emphasis on feeling said enthusiasm and more attention on performance. If teachers can borrow a few tips from the drama department, they might be able to display, if not feel, the requisite energy to keep their students actively engaged. Educators might think of such classroom behaviors as frivolous or even deprecating to the materials. However, when teachers learn to gesticulate, use their voice in dramatic ways, and otherwise act out the material, students take note.
No great performance was ever supported by a bland, uninspired, unenthusiastic stage. Thus, teachers need to pay equal attention to their classroom. It should be well-organized so that students know where to find their assignments or other pertinent information, but also full of life and color. Since so many schools are overtly institutional, when teachers design their rooms with interesting seating charts, colorful and relevant artwork, and even colorful dry-erase markers, students notice. Even if a teacher is not the most naturally dramatic performer, if their classroom embodies an enthusiasm for the subject matter and student outcomes, the pupils will respond accordingly.
Many teachers might interpret much of the literature around enthusiasm to mean that they should do nothing but prance around the classroom and use a chipper tone. It might be assumed that the best teachers are those who embody youthfulness. Some teachers balk at this notion and point out the high rate of young teachers who burn out after a few years. It would seem that the sugar-high of youth is sometimes followed by a disastrous crash.
Thus, teachers need to stay focused on the primary goal of teaching: to communicate the curriculum to students. They need to find a way to demonstrate a love of teaching while practicing that very art. It can be a delicate and difficult balancing act. Perhaps this is more true with drier subject matter, such as mathematics.
Enthusiasm often indicates outward vibrancy and energy, but that is not a true or valid expression for every teacher. If an educator makes an effort, they should be able to find a way to express their enthusiasm appropriately and sustainably. Some might be full of bouncy froth for a lifetime, while others might express their enthusiasm with a quiet intensity. When teachers discover how to channel their enthusiasm in ways that are authentic to them, students are sure to respond. After all, kids are often experts at detecting when someone is putting them on and thus, even the most energetic performance might fall flat if it’s not true to the performer.
Teachers need to be enthusiastic; research shows this has a positive impact on the learning process. However, educators must also model a sort of enthusiasm that is truthful and sustainable in order to survive as a teacher. Perhaps when students see a model of authentic inspiration, they will be prompted to discover their own.