Now let's talk about taking it to the next level. Every successful teacher of elementary children will tell you that a bit of drama is critical for catching and maintaining children's attention.
Enter the “drama queen”
Just as you are going to slightly accentuate your unique qualities, like a stage actor, you are also going to accentuate the way you make your points.
How? Consider a new-teacher question that I presented to my followers for input:
“I’m a new teacher and still suffering from a problem I had as a student-teacher. I’m not naturally a dramatic person, or even an outspoken one. My kids seem to stop paying attention to me so easily, even during a read-aloud.
“Their attention drifts, and then the behavior begins. I feel self-conscious if I go ‘over the top’ when teaching, but I’ve seen other teachers who are this way in front of students and seem to hold attention better.
“I’m struggling with how to be this kind of teacher. Any ideas?”
Can you relate? Let’s see what experienced teachers had to say about adding some attention-getting drama:
Anna: “Pick up your cell and do a fake call to a parent in front of the class, going over the top about how great ‘Jessica’ is performing!”
Sebastion: “Get really silly every once in a while: do a Native American dance during social studies or act like a robot during science. The kids will never know what's next!”
Cole: “Sometimes a well-placed whisper will add to the suspense. Use it sparingly but at least once a day to make a point.”
Ellen: “Practice your read-alouds before doing them for your class. Where will you dramatically pause and ask, ‘What do you think happens next?’ How will your character voices sound? Where will you stop reading to keep them guessing until the next day?”
Sarah: “Having trouble acting in a way that doesn’t feel natural? Then use some props. Kids love the unexpected. If you are teaching a lesson with a baseball theme, then put on a baseball hat and a jersey, for example. It helps you play a role more naturally, as if you are actually a different person.
“And speaking of props, have a few funny ones in your room. I use to have a soft foam ball that had a pattern of an eye. If someone was acting up a bit, I’d position it on the filing cabinet so it was ‘looking’ at them and say, ‘I’ve got my eye on you.’”
Do you see the common theme? Acting. If your students’ attention is wandering, you are going to have to up your crazy-meter a bit. It won’t feel natural at first, but within a day or two, you’ll be pulling it off with ease. The kids will love it and will end up learning in spite of themselves.
Video tips: first day of school room prep
You decide the role you will play
So what happens when we put it all together? Well, look at it from the students’ perspective by imagining two student-teacher scenarios (you can easily apply this to first-year teachers, too):
Picture a student-teacher entering a school building. She is well-prepared for the requirements she must meet in order to get credits, but hesitant to go beyond them… and it shows.
She enters the room quietly and slips to her out-of-the-way spot with hardly a word of greeting. During instruction, she hangs to the side of the class, doesn't engage unless someone speaks to her, and, when she does teach, she appears subdued… not surprising since she’s obviously a little nervous.
Next, picture the same teacher walking into the classroom – still nervous, but putting on a brave smile and faking it to overcome her racing heart. She's wearing a basic outfit, but she's added a scarf for some visual interest.
Instead of heading to the back of the classroom to find a safe spot, she mingles with the kids a bit as they are getting settled. She engages in short snippets of conversation about what they did the night before and what their strategy is for completing their entry task (bell work).
During independent work, she doesn't just observe; she circulates and challenges the kids to explain their thinking. When she's doing a read-aloud, she uses a few dramatic pauses and some funny voices. In short, she’s not taking over the classroom or trying to outshine her mentor teacher… she’s simply being an interesting person.
Humans pay attention to interesting people
Now imagine that you are an elementary-aged child. Which one do you want your teacher to be? The instinctive reaction of any child will be to pay more attention to and engage more with the second teacher. They can't help it – it is built-in to their very nature to be more attracted to an interesting person who shows interest in them.
Be that person. For the sake of your classroom management, student engagement, and success at teaching children, be that person during both your practicum and when you take over your first classroom.