by Warren Fowler
When you’re wondering about the teaching methods you should adopt, there’s one useful question to ask yourself: who are the teachers that you remember the most?
You’ll probably think of the charismatic ones first. These were the teachers who brightened up the room the moment they entered. They were the ones whose classes you most looked forward to. You could talk to them about anything.
They had charisma, and that made them popular and memorable.
Then there were those teachers we label as “traditional.” They were more serious. They got into the classroom and committed themselves to teaching, straight away. They were effective in engaging students, but they lacked the dynamic personality of the more popular teachers.
Now, ask yourself another important question: what’s the point of teaching?
Is it about being likable? Of course not! It’s all about transferring the knowledge you have and helping students grow and learn. Do charismatic teachers achieve better results? Not necessarily. If you try to remember the things you learned in high school, you might find they come from a surprising source.
Why Is Charisma Important?
Charisma can matter. It is important to be liked by your students. The way students evaluate you says a lot about the effect you had as their teacher. Those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to have charismatic people as teachers know that they can motivate students to study. They have an exceptional ability to gain students’ attention and make deep impressions, although those impressions aren’t always related to the curricular material.
The charismatic teacher is not only good at what they teach, but they can also teach to a level the student can relate with. There is something sincere and genuine about them, and that factor can drive the students towards better engagement.
The charismatic teacher is a skilled listener who cares about her students. The students feel they can talk to this person, so it’s easier for such an educator to understand the obstacles they face and help them overcome them. Think of Louanne Johnson – the teacher that Michelle Pfeiffer plays in Dangerous Minds, and you’ll realize what the charismatic teacher can mean for students.
But let’s be real: that’s just a movie. In real life, the charismatic/effective combination is hardly a given. In fact, research shows that teachers with great charisma often fail when it comes to meeting their main goal as educators: effectively conveying knowledge.
Charismatic Teachers Are Not As Effective As We Perceived Them to Be
Appearances can be deceiving. That’s one lesson to be learned from a study called Instructor Fluency Increases Perceptions of Learning Without Increasing Actual Learning. The study, the results of which were published in 2013, examined the effects of lecture fluency on the metacognitive awareness of the students. When the researchers use the term “lecture fluency” here, they actually mean charisma.
They showed two videos to the participants of the study. In the fluent video, the instructor spoke without using notes, maintained eye contact, and stood upright. After watching this charismatic educator, participants were asked to predict how much of the information they would be able to recall, and they perceived higher levels of learning.
In the disfluent video, as the researchers named it, the instructor used notes, didn’t maintain eye contact, and wasn’t fluent at all. The participants were given a text-based script to study. As it turned out, the lecture fluency did not significantly affect study time. The fluent instructor was rated higher on instructor evaluation surveys. However, the amount of information learned was not significantly different when the students were being evaluated after both video lectures.
What does this tell us?
When students learn from a charismatic teacher, they evaluate them better. They have a perception that they are learning more. In reality, however, the instructor’s effectiveness does not depend on their charisma.
The students are not very effective in evaluating their own knowledge. They perceive that they know more after listening to a lecture from a charismatic teacher. That can be a great disadvantage, since they may choose to stop studying before fully understanding the content.
Genevieve Maurice, an educator from BestEssays, agrees that appearances can be deceiving: “When you consider someone is a ‘good’ teacher, you might be learning less than you anticipate. The evaluation of teachers’ effectiveness is mostly based on student surveys, and I don’t think that’s fair. The students are considering qualities of character, which don’t have a direct effect on the actual learning.”
An effective teacher is one who leads students to the “aha” moment during a lecture. They enable students to understand complex concepts by explaining them in the simplest way possible. They may be charismatic or not; their personal traits don’t make a significant difference. In either case, the learner has to do most of the work – they have to study, and the teacher should inspire them to do that.
Good Teachers Are the Ones Who Lead Students towards Results
“A good teacher is a charismatic teacher” is an incomplete statement. Moreover, it’s wrong. An effective teacher is the one who understands what’s going on with their students, reveals their weaknesses, and helps them to overcome them.
In a way, the effective teacher is also a theorist. They have to understand the process of learning and figure out what stage their students are at. It’s not about getting into the classroom and making everyone smile. It’s about getting in there and making everyone learn; not by strain, but by desire.
If the teacher has personal charisma, the students will like them more. Will they learn more? Not if charisma is all the teacher has. Students won’t learn more if they like the professor; they will learn more if that professor is effective.
Warren’s lifestyle is full of hiking adventures. When he’s not busy with his guitar or enjoying the sunny day outside, he excels at blogging skills and scrolls through social media. You can meet him on Twitter and Facebook.
I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort starts in July, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to join!