Put your best face forward

Manaswini Sridhar

One, two, three….mike testing! Testing!

As I glance at the sullen, frowning and sometimes expressionless faces of some teachers as they file into a workshop, I wince, and wonder how students acclimatize themselves to the unsmiling and ‘no-eye contact’ world of some teachers. Even as an adult, it is challenging enough to compel these faces to signal some kind of expression so that a connection can be made. Many thaw only towards the end of the session, and some continue to send out signals that are not easy to read. My customary query to most teachers at the beginning of the session is, “Do you smile at your students?” There is a vague nod; some enthusiastic and happy teachers demonstrate their greeting and smile as they walk into class. Many nursery and primary section teachers are totally devoid of a smile. Their faces sometimes wear a smile, but neither the body nor the voice reflects the happiness. The thought that flashes through my mind then is, “How frightening it must be for a three-and-a-half year old child to try and learn from someone who seems so unfriendly and so unwilling to reach out.”

smile-teacher In a world where every household has at least two mirrors, why don’t people study their faces (and not just their beauty and attire) to determine whether they seem approachable or whether their demeanor is of a person who is aloof, chilly, and threatening? When I suggest this in a workshop, most of the adults look a little startled or amused. Teachers, like actors, need to perfect their body language because like actors, they are expected to be role models; nearly 200 students in the course of a single day focus on how their teachers handle the subject, their bodies and their voice. The smiling and friendly teacher is the one who will be welcomed in class, and who will be able to engage the class in knowledge acquisition, and in active listening and participation.

Most mobile phones these days have camera/video options. Wouldn’t it be wise to tape ourselves teaching in the classroom so that we clearly understand whether we really are what we imagine ourselves to be, or whether there is a gap between reality and our vision (or illusion!) of ourselves? The recording reveals whether we spend all our time talking, writing on the board or just staring at the students. It also captures whether we give our students the time to ask us questions, or whether we are doing the asking all the time. Yes, it can be embarrassing to realize that one is not the perfect teacher; but it also helps us become that perfect teacher we want to be, and until now have only presumed ourselves to be.

The video unravels the mystery of why our students are yawning most of the time…it’s because we are yawning or constantly looking at our watches. Both these actions are clear evidence of lethargy, impatience and sheer boredom. No wonder our teaching doesn’t strike a chord with the students.

The videos document our body language and most importantly, where our hands are. Are the hands and fingers pointing and accusing, or are they inviting and encouraging? Does the hand help explain concepts better by illustrating to students words such as big/small, tall/short, high/low. Or are the hands totally out of sight, hidden behind the desk or in your pockets? It is said that children trust those whose hands are always visible. Websites such as https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/your-hand-gestures-are-speaking-you outline the importance of the hands and what each hand gesture communicates.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Hyderabad. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.

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