Those who can teach...act well

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To what extent does effective teaching rely on giving a good acting performance in front of a class? Well, more than you might think, according to union leaders. And their opinion appears to be backed by the latest research, showing that teachers would benefit from taking coaching lessons from trained actors.

Jenny Rogerson, a speech therapist from Lancaster, who conducted the research in order to measure the attention span of children when listening to strained and difficult voices, said: “It is ridiculous that teachers who are going into classrooms are not armed as to how to look after their voice. That is their professional tool.”

In the research, over 100 pupils were asked to record how much information they had absorbed from hearing recordings of teachers, with hoarse voices and disorders, and the results were striking.

Miss Rogerson added: “You can infer that any form of vocal impairment can affect children’s learning. It has obviously huge implications.”

Philip Parkin, general secretary of The Professional Association of Teachers, recently discussed the research with PAT members at a national conference, emphasising the fact that voice and performance training could teach monotonous sounding teachers to control their classrooms better.

He said that problems arose when pupils’ attention started to waver when being taught by a teacher with a ‘broken’ or ‘breathy’ voice.
“If you have got a voice where you change the pitch, you raise the pitch, you lower the pitch, then clearly teaching and children’s learning is more effective. If teachers are monotonous, have no inflection in their voice, then children lose interest.”
Mr Parkin encouraged new measures to be taken in training teachers on their delivery and tone, suggesting that teachers were performers.

“You could almost say the teachers are part performers,” he said. “We are there to deliver the curriculum, but the way in which we do it and the way in which we present it has a big impact on learning. The teachers who present information and knowledge in an interesting and exciting way do put on a bit of a performance for the kids.”

He added that it would be a ‘splendid’ idea to use out of work actors to supply this sort of training.
This is not the first time teaching has been likened to acting. US novelist and short story writer, Aneurin Bevan said: “Good teaching is one quarter preparation and three quarters pure theatre.”

Following the conference, one graduate teacher recounted observing a teacher who had been to drama school:
“The best teaching I have ever observed was by a Webber Douglas graduate during my teacher training.  Prior to the lesson I had no idea he was an actor, but was transfixed, as were the rest of the class, by his energy and dynamic way in which he moved and controlled the classroom. At not one point, in a busy classroom atmosphere, did his voice appear strained, but by projecting it and controlling it effectively he was able to generate the sort of presence that might come after years of teaching, and he’d only been teaching 8 months.”

Nadia Nadif, an actor and a teacher who works for the National Youth Theatre said:
“Poor voice projection often causes a problem when reaching pupils who are sitting at the back of a classroom, and this can lead to unnecessary disruptive behaviour. These basic skills seem to be underestimated. To be able to command presence in any social situation ensures that you have credibility and are able generate focus on to you.  In short, you will be listened to without needing to shout all the time and risk damaging your voice.”

Miss Morley, a 34-year-old teacher from Buckinghamshire, might agree with the suggestions, having been off work for 5 months due to problems with her voice.

“I have always been a singer, so I thought I knew all about how the voice works,” she said.

“But being a typical teaching professional, I got a stinking cold, had a sore throat, [carried on working] and had a parents’ evening.
“I woke up the following day and could not talk at all.”

The research seems to have cast light on two issues - the necessity to protect a teachers’ voice from years of straining and the benefits of providing a dynamic and exciting atmosphere for pupils to aid learning.

So, next time you find yourself looking for a teacher, spare a thought for out-of-work actors. Perhaps a spot of teacher training could be just what the classroom ordered…

By Amy Rowe