While reading Dave Burgess’s highly popular educational tome Teach Like a Pirate, I discovered several key elements were repeated over and over again. These elements tie directly into the acrostic PIRATE, which stands for Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. While Burgess contends that a successful teacher will implement all of the acrostic in his/her classroom, it’s safe to say from his examples throughout the book, special emphasis is given to building rapport, student immersion, and passion/enthusiasm.
Building rapport with students is something all teachers should be doing in the classroom. If you aren’t, maybe you need to take a step back and determine why you became a teacher in the first place. It should be because of the kids. If you are listing any other reason in your top spot, please consider an alternate career. Teachers aren’t doing it for the pay, or for the stressful, long hours, or for the ever-changing curriculum that guarantees if you just implement this shiny new program everyone will be excited to learn. We’re doing it because deep down, we want to make a difference in a child’s life. Sometimes that difference is academic, but oftentimes the difference is emotional.
So if you’re a teacher that never connects with the children, never asks them how their day is going, or finds out what movie or music they’re into right now, you need to start adding that into your classroom time. I take time at the beginning of the day for the kids to socialize with each other and with me. I also let the children talk to me at dismissal about how their day went or what they plan to do tonight at home. It builds trust between the students and me, because they see that I am truly interested in what they are doing. It also helps me get a beat on what is considered “cool” for a certain age group. If it’s some hobby I’ve never heard of before, I learn more about it via a quick Google search, and then I can use these interests as examples in math or English problems.
Building rapport does not mean that the teacher and students share the same amount of authority. It simply means that the teacher is doing their best to connect to all children, sometimes children who might not have strong adult role models at home. If a child feels like a teacher cares, perhaps the child will learn to be more trusting of all authority figures, which could prevent serious civil infractions in the future. I think we can all agree this situation would be ideal.
Also in the ideal world that Dave Burgess is painting, he links teacher creativity and enthusiasm to student creativity and enthusiasm. If a teacher is passionate about the material, then that passion rubs off on the students. If the teacher treats the lesson as a chore, then the students will perceive it as a chore and not want to do the work. While every lesson doesn’t need to be “fun” or “exciting,” every lesson should be taught as if it is imperative the student knows this information. This can sometimes be an issue, especially if the teacher can’t see the relevance of the lesson either. This might mean the teacher has to scrap the lesson and start over, or if the topic needs to be covered for State standards or testing, it could mean the teacher has to delve a little deeper to find the what makes that topic important.
I’ve never been fond of math, and last year was the first time I had to teach it. I knew since it wasn’t my favorite subject I was going to have to “fake it to make it.” I put all of my effort and energy into making the lessons come alive and to make sense for me, which in turn engaged the students. Most of my students walked away loving math that year. All because I made an effort to be enthusiastic in a topic I felt inadequate in teaching.
Passion, enthusiasm and creativity should be cornerstones of a classroom, not only for teachers but for students. Giving students the same old assignments over and over again disengages passion as well as any creative process. Critical thinking is actively engaged through creative projects. If a teacher is only expecting students to parrot back what they’ve been taught through boring worksheets or tests, they will never engage the higher levels of thinking (see Bloom’s Taxonomy). Offering children more complex projects to complete can develop this higher order thinking. This does not mean that every child does the same project. If someone isn’t interested in art, and yet every “creative” project you assign is centered on art, you’re going to lose that student’s interest. Music, writing, speech-making, scientific experiments, are all forms of creativity that should be explored in the classroom.
I’m of the opinion that there is no wrong way to implement Burgess’s ideas into your own classroom. As long as your intentions are to teach creatively and passionately to engage students in warm companionship and higher-order thinking, the possibilities for crafting lessons are endless. Despite the demands of core curriculum and national standards, or maybe because of them, teachers need to create an atmosphere of respect and creativity where students are free to flourish academically and socially. It won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it.