How to ensure teacher presence in the classroom

How to ensure teacher presence in the classroom

Taking command of the classroom to some teachers is as simple as ABCD. Such teachers always know what to do when, why, and how and before you notice it, their lessons will be moving smoothly. An impromptu visit into their classes will point to “well-oiled machines” kind of lessons where everything seems to run as planned. These teachers keep students engaged throughout their lessons which limits the room for the insurgence of unwanted behavior in their classes. Achieving such levels of teaching is never easy. It calls for practice, dedication, and willingness to learn.

Teacher presence is one of the most important skills that play a key role in having effective lessons. It simply refers to the actions of the teacher in the classroom that students intuitively respond to. How teachers generally manage their actions in the classroom ranging from tonal variation, body language, managing emotions, and interactions with learners will either determine whether the environment of learning is good and safe enough for effective and maximum benefits of the learners or otherwise.

Teachers may unknowingly create unsafe learning spaces especially when their presence is not felt by the learners. In such spaces, the lessons may end up lacking deep engagements which in turn may create a very tense environment for both the teachers and the learners. This, in turn, may lead to boring lessons that may force some learners to completely withdraw or slip into sleep. The teacher, on the other hand, will find it hard to drive the lesson to the intended objectives. Such a situation may be very frustrating especially to new teachers who could be entering the profession for the first time. The situation if not controlled on time may push some teachers into thinking that they are not good enough or probably even start accusing the learners of disrespecting them. Some may find themselves avoiding to go to such classes or even choose to resort to “safer and easier” modes of teaching such as the use of lecture methods where students’ engagement is minimal.

With training and practice, this situation can easily be averted. Teachers need to spend more time ensuring that their presence is felt by the learners at all times both in and out of the classroom. This statement has been confused by many people in many quarters. Teacher presence does not mean stamping your authority and running your lessons like one of Idi Amin’s or Hitler’s camps where the teacher is the law and every word from him or her should be taken in religiously without questioning. Instead, it points to those things that teachers do in class that help them connect with their learners in a more special way without creating a feeling of fear or intimidation while at the same time achieving the intended objectives.

For new teachers or those teachers who still struggle with taking full command of their classes, here are a few tips to help you:

1. Master your content: Content mastery is a powerful tool that a teacher can use to steer his or her class to desired outcomes. Teachers with deep mastery of content are never afraid of challenging questions or answers from their learners. They can use what learners share during lessons to push them into deeper thinking or even challenge them by asking intriguing questions that in turn helps nurture their curiosity and critical thinking. This not only displays them as knowledgeable people to the learners but also as people who can be depended upon at all times. This helps students to take the teachers seriously at all times. On the other hand, teachers who struggle with the content present themselves to learners as shaky and ones cannot be depended upon. This, in turn, may limit their interactions with the learners since they may be scared of being challenged by the learners. It is difficult for teachers who are unable to tackle questions or problems from their learners to earn full respect.

2. Prepare for lessons adequately: Failure to prepare is simply preparing to fail. A teacher who shows up for the lessons with all the materials will most definitely have a smooth lesson that guarantees the achievement of objectives. Such teachers will manage to keep the learners fully engaged and there will be no room for wasting time or running up and down trying to find what is missing. Such actions present a teacher to the students as someone whose actions can be emulated, organized and orderly. Teachers who show up for the lessons late, with missing materials, or without a plan fail to inspire confidence in the learners. In most cases, they are likely to deliver poor lessons with gaps. Their confidence may also be dented as they may appear to the learners as “jokers.” Averting the situation may take time and may make it hard for the take to fully take charge of students even in the future.

3. Maintain proper body posture/language: For effective lessons, every teacher should ensure that whatever their mouths speak is not in contrast with what their bodies say. Confident teachers should at all times ensure that they maintain proper eye contact with the learners, use appropriate gestures that are not offensive or demeaning and stand in such a way that they appear confident. Teachers should avoid leaning on the tables, walls, chairs, or any furniture in the room. They should also avoid teaching while sitting down or facing away as this disconnects them from their learners. Some common techniques that teachers can apply include:

(i) Square up/ Standstill - When giving directions, stop moving and doing other tasks. To convey the seriousness of your directions, turn with two feet and two shoulders to face the object of your directions directly.

(ii) Maintain eye contact- As a teacher, always appear to be looking at the students. This ensures that they remain on task at all times. It also displays you as someone who is confident and present. It also helps you to maintain expectations. Also, use this opportunity to sweat out any small stuff that may easily go unnoticed.

4. Stand/move strategically in the room: The teacher should always stand in strategic positions within the room to ensure that he or she maintains eye contact with the learners. The teacher doesn’t necessarily need to stand at the front at all times but should always ensure that every time he or she moves, not a single learner should lose him or her. The teacher should also stand at vintage positions such as the corners of the room when giving instructions. This helps the teacher to keep track of all the learners. This helps the learners to stay focused throughout the lesson.

5. Give clear instructions: How clear instructions are given in class depends on teachers’ preparation before lessons. A teacher who prepares adequately for lessons will understand how best to give instructions based on learners' levels. A teacher can choose to read all the instructions to the learners before asking them to execute them or one instruction at a time followed by an action. A teacher could also call on some learners to paraphrase the instructions just to ensure that they are well understood. Giving unclear instructions portray teachers as unprepared and may lead to a loss of confidence in the face of learners. This may, in turn, jeopardize the whole process of learning.

6. Remain firm but warm/ manage your emotions: Learners respect and love teachers who are always ready to support them regardless of circumstances. A teacher’s impact is best felt when they ensure that classroom expectations are clearly spelt out and that learners know what is expected of them at all times. As teachers enforce these expectations, they should do so with a touch of love and care just to remind the learners that they care about them. Teachers who try to enforce draconian rules in class create a space that is unsafe and in the long run, may end up scaring away the learners who may choose to withdraw and avoid the teacher. This may push the teacher into being a lone ranger with little or no ability to fully steer the class to intended objectives.

7. Maintain a formal tone: A formal tone does not come off as aggressive or too stern. But instead, it comes out with a lot of respect and a touch of love and care. Teachers who use inappropriate language such as slang appear to learners as less serious and may not earn learners' full confidence. Failure to earn full confidence may throw a teacher into a situation where learners may also be tempted to use the same language ending up derailing the whole process of learning. A teacher should at all-time remain and use appropriate language that is not demeaning or inappropriate for classroom use. For instance, consider the two instructions below;

  • Informal directions: Uh, now we are going to um, put our books away in the um thing under the desk so we can start our worksheet, which are with me so I’ll hand it out to you now…
  • Formal directions: Books away in your desk. Take a worksheet from the middle of the table. Write your name and the date.

Teachers who use the first language may end up sounding unprofessional which may make the learners not look up to them in a professional view.

Always remember that learners learn better when teachers fully show up. Always let your presence be felt by the learners at all times.
Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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