Can you remember a time in class as a student either at school or university, when you were bored with the lesson and you began to count the number of times your teacher used a particular phrase or performed, subconsciously, a habit he or she had? It might have been an utterance like “ah” or gestures such as touching the nose or pushing hair out of the face. On the other hand, the lesson might have been interesting or important but you kept being distracted by a teacher’s mannerisms.
You may have not been doing the counting but I’m sure you knew someone who was. You may even have discussed the mannerisms at lunch and as a result, your group may have given the teacher a nickname that recalled the mannerism.
These mannerisms, be they verbal or physical, impact on the way your students react to your teaching. At Teachers’ College, during a subject called, “Art of Speech”, our lecturer talked about the need to have pride in the way we, as teachers, use language. It was important always to use our language in the best possible way to give our students the ‘correct’ model to follow. As well, we needed to realise that our body language, gesture, vocabulary and the like are all part of our speaking package.
Thus, it is important to find out from your family, friends and fellow teachers what mannerisms you have and design a plan to weed them out. You, of course, will need someone you trust to gauge your progress and give you feedback.
In the case of verbal mannerisms, e.g. using ‘yes’ all the time when a student is correct, you can train yourself to use as many different ways as possible to give the same meaning.
For ‘yes’, you can use:
Correct; that’s right
A good answer
I agree with you, and so on
Because you can think faster than you can speak, you can train your conscious and subconscious mind to be aware of using appropriate language. It comes only when you practise it often to make it an automatic response/habit.
Two final points: If there is a particular phrase or word you use too often, try writing a list of other ways of saying the same idea or the same word. Have these alternatives with you in the class room and refer to them as often as you need to.
A simple but good example of what I mean is the word you would say to a student when he/she gives a correct answer. You could use, “correct; that’s right; good answer; right; correct answer; that’s the right answer”.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Some teachers have sayings they use on special occasions.
For example, a colleague of mine would say to her students the following short sentence when they were acting in a silly way. The students understood it was her way of warning them to think about what they were doing. The sentence was:
“Don’t be such a pumpkin.”
Some teachers, as well, have a phrase that they only use when they are giving out well deserved praise.