Do you ever wonder why you like some teachers and why you absolutely dislike others? Why some teachers inspire you and why some sap your enthusiasm? And now that you are a teacher yourself, do you ever wonder why some students love being around you and why others try to dodge you when they see you coming?
Back in my school days, I remember being fond of my English teacher. He was into rock music and horror movies. I liked my Nepali teacher too. He was ‘haudey’ and friendly. He also told funny jokes. I liked my head-teacher because he had a visible halo of intelligence around him and looked like Morgan Freeman with chubby cheeks.
Students like teachers for various reasons. For a teacher’s absolute authority, command over the subject, confidence, personality, character, even gender, age and background. Or because the teacher does not nag students for grammatical mistakes… doesn’t pressure the students with assignments and deadlines. In college, we liked teachers who gave us notes. A friend liked Sociology ma’am because she was unmarried. My female friends liked a teacher because he had a unique British accent. There could be so many reasons.
So why we end up liking (or disliking) a teacher? There must be some explainable reasons. In this article, I claim that one of the reasons is non-verbal communication between the teacher and the students.
What the theories say:
We communicate in two levels: verbal and non-verbal. We might think that the verbal part matters the most. Thus, a teacher focuses on delivering the content. The what part. However, we overlook the other one. We infact completely neglect it. Gestures, eye contact, body language, distance, social norms, expectations and so on. The how part. Non-verbal communication is about ‘how’ you share the message rather than ‘what’ message you are sharing.
Teaching is an act of communication between the teacher and the students. This happens in both verbal and non-verbal levels. Therefore teaching depends on both ‘what’ and ‘how’ part of the delivery. But do we know if teaching was meaningful? George Bernard Shaw had said that the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. By lecturing our content to the students, we may delude ourselves into believing that learning has taken place. But the non-verbal part of teaching might have gone completely awry, impeding the communication process and obstructing the sharing of knowledge. That’s not meaningful. And, students don’t like that.
But when teachers communicate effectively on the nonverbal level too, students learn from the teachers and reciprocate by liking the teachers. And hence, dear teachers, granted that you are well qualified and you know your content inside out, here are three simple aspects of non-verbals you can consider, and implement them to make your students like you even more.
Back in my school days, I had a teacher who, it seemed, believed in not looking into the eyes of the students. His preferred method of teaching was writing everything on the blackboard and making us copy word by word. Or he would spit out from his notebook and we would have to copy them. Naturally, his eyes were often buried deep into the notebook and textbooks. There was no rapport. There was no trust. I didn’t like that teacher. I don’t remember his name either.
When a teacher looks into the eyes of the students, the students feel warm, cared and respected. It makes them feel understood. It does not matter if it’s a large class or a small class. Eye contact works like magic.
I used to move a lot. I would constantly pace around the classroom, from one corner to another, from front to the back and from one side to another. I thought that I needed to move around for two reasons – to control the class from noise makers and to get near to each and every student.
I also realized that such pacing was a result of my own anxiety, fear and nervousness. On the days when I was not properly prepared for the class, I would be pacing more than on the days when I was completely prepared and confident.
What we need to do is controlled movement, or let’s call it – movement with purpose. Instead of going for a morning-walk around the classroom, one can stand firm for a few minutes and then change the location. This type of movement is also necessary for the eye contacts.
The opposite of this also holds true. There are teachers who sit on a chair or stand still on one side of the room and deliver their lecture. Students might get completely tuned out and get lost in their own mental vacation.
Emotions are contagious. Remember the proverb: when you smile, the world smiles with you. And when you frown, the world frowns back at you.
The most visible outlet of the emotions is our face and therefore positive facial expression matters a lot. I always enter a classroom with a big smile in my face. In some days, even when I don’t feel like it, I just force myself into a smile and try to keep the first five minutes of the classroom positive and happy.
But when a teacher lets her negative emotions win over and starts showing anger, resentment, frustration and even boredom, the class too quickly gets contaminated with these emotions. And as a result, the whole class gets put off and tuned out. We don’t have to be Einstein to figure this out. There were some teachers who never smiled. I didn’t like them.
Now here’s the nugget of gold.
Non-verbal communication, just like any normal communication, is always two-way. The non-verbal signals of the sender and the receiver are constantly interacting and giving feedback to each other. If your non-verbals send happy signals, the students also return happy signals. The more positive the interaction is, the more effective the whole communication becomes. But if you send disinterested signals, you can guess what happens. Therefore, be conscious about the non-verbal signals you are sending to the students.
So, to sum it up:
Proper eye contacts: When you have proper eye contacts with the students, they also respond by looking at you. This creates a positive psychological space between you and the students. And it elevates the quality of the interaction you are having. They feel acknowledged, cared and respected and in return, you feel they are more ready to listen to you.
Controlled movement: When your movement is controlled and relaxed, you feel confident and easy. But in the contrary, when you start pacing around showing nervousness, the students too feel nervous and lose confidence in you.
Positive facial expression: With a conscious attempt to keep your facial expression friendly, warm and empathetic, you can win your students’ warmth, love and trust.
And, please watch these video if you haven’t yet:
The author is one of editors with ELT Choutari.