UnconventionalityDo you think that teachers such as Mr. Finn in School of Rock deserve to be lauded or ridiculed (or both)? How does humor come into play in regards to your decision?
A sense of humor is critical to the classroom, I think. Part of my job, whether some like it or not, is to entertain. Not because I'm some paid jester, but because students learn better with humor than perhaps anything else. I teach history, but more importantly, I teach them to enjoy history for life, when most of their understanding of history will come outside of my classroom, hopefully. If they don't like the subject and have positive memories about the class, then I think they are much less likely to further their learning on their own.
I tell my students all the time: "Do you think I'm this weird in real life? This is for your benefit." When you are unconventional the students are left wondering what to expect next, that is, they are engaged, not passive.
Not sure Mr. Finn is the best example of unconventional, as opposed to merely "Hollywood-ized", but your point is well taken and thought provoking for all teachers.
There is a saying, "Our friends are our friends often because they make us laugh." This same statement can be applied to teachers. How often have former students greeted teachers and then reminisced about ridiculous, crazy, or just amusing incidents that occurred while they were in our classrooms? One student always remembered my imitation of Robin Williams in The Dead Poets' Society when I climbed onto my desk because they refused to remember an important concept. He recited this concept for me ten years later because he remembered my leaping onto the chair and "vaulting" onto the desk! (Parents had a sense of humor then, too) Humor is essential to ever facet of life.
Mr. Finn deserves to be lauded because he knows how to engage students, however, each teacher is responsible and paid to address curriculum. The secret, the art, and the science of teaching is to get students to taste that curriculum and be engaged with that, not necessarily something off-topic... which is what Mr. Finn did. This year, I found my students enjoyed my humor as a vehicle to access curriculum quite often, but once we arrived, they preferred the content-rich presentation of information or practice of skill. Humor can certainly be a frontloader, and a tool to maintain engagement when content runs a little dry, but students recognize and respect good teaching.
Good teaching relies on teachers making their lessons memorable in a positive way - and humour is an obvious method of achieving this. What works is teaching with passion and enthusiasm. Lessons where the teacher's passion is negative are ineffective: many of us can recall being humiliated or frightened in a classroom, but we would probably not be able to recall what the learning objective of the lesson was. Being unconventional yet supportive, enjoying the teaching as much as the students enjoy learning seems to be a good way to be.
I think there's always a place for the seemingly unconventional teaching methods of Mr. Finn. Unfortunately, many conservative-minded administrators would certainly discourage his style. I've had several principals who prefer teachers to all be cloned from the same old mold: noncontroversial, impersonal, humorless and unemotional. Students deserve better, and they should be exposed to a wide variety of teaching styles, just as they will be exposed to many different personalities in the outside world.
I will quote: "If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always gotten." Students are different. They need teachers who are not afraid to be different as well. Not every student will be reached by a nonconfronational "safe" teacher type. Students deserve to be inspired and thrilled to life and learning...a little wild and wacky is fun. Learning should be fun as well as challenging. What's the harm?
Every teacher needs to find his or her own way to reach the students. Sometimes being silly works, and sometimes it doesn't. I think it is much worse for a teacher to try to be something he or she is not. If silly is who you are, you should go with that. If it's not, then you should not attempt it. Students know when you are being false. You will get much more out of being yourself.
I think that humour is a vital piece of weaponry in the arsenal of every teacher. I class myself as a kind of unconventional teacher, as I find that I have to in order for students to sit up and pay attention to what you are teaching. Doing crazy things (and I have done a far few) gives students a real sense of not knowing what to expect from you, which is crucial to the learning process.
I think that you have to be somewhat unconventional nowadays to engage students. The educational world is much different now than it has been in the past. I also think that humor is very important. Humor keeps a person on their toes and students on the edge of their seats. Two very important things in the classroom.