Have you ever felt like you were just up there doing the dog and pony show to entertain the students in your class or the administrator that was evaluating you? Can I just tell you how much I absolutely hate that feeling? I went into teaching with the desire to share knowledge, and I can remember having those ideas that it was not about entertainment. Fast forward a few years, and I may have changed on the entertainment portion slightly, at least on how I think about it.
Before I get blasted, I am now looking at entertainment a little different than I used to look at it when it was referring to education. To truly understand what I am saying (and thinking) let’s break down what Dog and Pony Show means. This is what I found on the Merriam-Webster site about Dog and Pony Show:
Definition of dog and pony show
: an often elaborate public relations or sales presentation
also: an elaborate or overblown affair or event
It is easy for us to think about evaluations as a dog and pony show to simply jump through the hoops on a checklist. It is also easy for the word entertainment to be thrown into our teaching and looked at as a bad thing. It seems like, for the past year, we have had to put as much effort into entertaining while we teach as we do into our actual content being taught. I don’t know about you, but I struggled with student engagement during the fall semester. Whether it was the masks, the hybrid set-up for the class, teaching in 2 rooms (from the doorway) to accommodate students and maintain physical distance, or just the weirdness of what was going on in the world around us is something that I can only hypothesize about. I do know that when I asked students what the feedback they would give for this semester was, it was that it made them nervous and it made it hard to focus. When I asked what the best learning moments they experienced were, everything they mentioned included relational teaching with a little entertainment on the side.
When I taught online synchronously this semester, there was a lot of the same thoughts. I know that I have a hard time staying engaged in a Zoom where I can’t see everyone or see a lot of black screens with names, especially when the Zoom is longer than about thirty minutes. Did anyone else start to feel weary as the Zoom meetings or classes stretched to fill the whole day? What about a sense of dread when you looked at the calendar and saw multiple days (for us it was after Thanksgiving when everything transitioned to online) of virtual teaching and Zoom meetings only?
I think one of the things this past year has taught me about how I teach is that I possess a quality very much like I have heard comedians speak of throughout the years. I feed off my audience. I get my energy from my students. Maybe that is why, when we had such a hard time with engagement this past semester, I found it harder and harder to teach and much more exhausting. I can honestly say that by the time the semester ended, I was more tired than I can ever remember being in my entire life.
Where does all of this leave us? In my mind, we need to balance an entertainment piece with what we are teaching. I don’t mean the whole dog and pony show, but I do think that in entertainment helps with engagement. Not frivolous entertainment that has no meaning, and definitely not just checking the boxes for the evaluations, but true thought behind making our content meaningful for our students. There is a ton of research about Edutainment or Educational Entertainment, and I think there is some validity in moving towards this style of teaching. One of the articles I read from The Best Schools is all about how to combine Education and Entertainment and even gives several different ways to do that (Edutainment: 5 Ways to Combine Education & Entertainment).
So, no, it isn’t a dog and pony show. We are educators, and what we do is important. However, if you find yourself struggling with engagement, or you realize that you also thrive upon reactions from your students, try one of the methods in the article or try your own method. See if making something a little more entertaining increases your student engagement.
And, as always, remain calm in your Perfect Chaos.