Teachers work their magic everyday and they do that without spells or wands. They don’t possess invisible powers or rely on illusion either. Teachers are true magicians.
Dinner-party bores will always manage to define you according to the work you do. When the inevitable question does get sprung, you could always reply that you are a magician. You wouldn’t be telling a fib either because it’s one of the teacher super powers.
Teachers with magical powers can consistently wow a class and make learning memorable. They do this without pulling rabbits out of hats or conjuring up doves using ‘flight’ of hand. They make magic by other means.
What’s the magic word?
Dr Carolyn Adams (2009) says there are so many unquantifiable factors at work but “Those elements, such as caring, charisma, and determination, when stirred together in the right proportions with the skills, knowledge, and passion of a well-trained teacher, constitute the magic.”
To this, you have hardiness, happiness and self-belief and half a dozen other factors. It might be difficult to put a finger on those that have ‘got it’ but it seems to be those that “have the perfect combination of natural empathy, positive attitude and conscientious work ethic that together makes for a magical teaching ability.“
It can be subtle and invisible and doesn’t always come wrapped in bows and bright colours. They have this “something else.”
So can we teach this magical ability?
Christopher Emdin reckons we can but we need to know what real engagement looks like. Students want to be on the edge of their seats. He says, “Magic can be taught. Now how do you teach it? You teach it by allowing people to go into those spaces where the magic is happening.”
Emdin says that it isn’t teacher training that teaches us how to engage. Teachers find how to engage others in spaces outside of education; in “barbershops, rap concerts, and most importantly, in the black church”.
Teaching magicians create magical moments by being ‘tuned in’. They are culturally responsive teachers who know their contexts and communities and can be flexible and reactive to their school environments. We can learn a lot from those around us. Emdin reminds us this might be to adopt the playful and soulful style of the preacher where you pepper your teaching with rhyme, storytelling and call-and-response (can I get an amen?).
His idea is that we should follow a “Pentecostal pedagogy” and get out into other worlds “to view those folks that have the power to engage and just take notes on what they do.”
The reality is, many teachers don’t present. They aren’t storytellers. As Sir John Jones says, they don’t “make it RING: Relevant, Interesting, Naughty and a Giggle.”
Take a look at the following video in which Emdin explains more:
Wizard ‘Red Arrow’ teachers make things look easy but then anyone good at their job can make the complicated look effortless. It might be a mixture of punk learning, salami and chameleon teaching with plenty of personality and mojo. Yes, they have the magic touch.
A Punch and Judy teacher can knock a concept on the head, get a laugh but not really get the message across. A wizard teacher performs differently and brings the learning alive so that things make sense. They are more likely to use pink elephants, blue bananas and yellow blackbirds to get their points across but the power is in their presentation.
Props can help but teaching is basically a presenting job so learning from those that do it well are the ones to watch. Like Christopher Emdin, you might use hip-hop to inspire and work the magic. What about looking at the best stand-up comedians, street magicians, TV or weather presenters. What do they do to engage us? How do they speak and interact? Watch their body language and learn from their deliveries.
You might not agree with Emdin, but his ‘Pentecostal Pedagogy’ can’t be dismissed because, as he says in his book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, “teaching is not just telling students what you know; it is about knowing how to share what you know so that it can be optimally received.”
Teaching is all in the show, presentation and performance.
Work your magic
If you want to weave your magic, then look at the charismatic presenters out there and learn from them. If we leave it to teacher training institutions, we’re going to send students to sleep.
Don’t worry if you think you need to go into school tomorrow and start rapping. You can orchestrate and work your magic by combining elements of great presenters with your real self in order to awaken the inner person of every learner. Teaching magicians celebrate difference and diversity and make learning almost spiritual.
Teaching is a craft but it’s not witchcraft and it’s not rocket science; it’s about weaving magic, building dreams and making children feel like champions through passion and real engagement. For great teaching, just add magic.
By John Dabell
John Dabell is an experienced teacher, former school inspector for Ofsted, project manager, writer and editor: @John_Dabell