None of the letters I received took the view that teachers must be entertaining. There were dozens of articulate letters (none from current secondary students) that made a distinction between interesting and entertaining and then made the point that teachers should try to be interesting, but none took the view that an interesting teacher must be entertaining. At best, entertainment was considered a lucky accident and a bonus when it occurred.
On Aug. 2, I asked in a column if a teacher should be an entertainer, and I have held off trying to write an answer hoping for at least one writer that would answer with an unequivocal "yes, the teacher should ensure that the class is entertaining." No one said it. I still think there may be students who hold this view, even though I didn't hear from any of them.On the other hand, no one cited an example of a bad teacher who was also entertaining. There were plenty of examples of good teachers who were entertaining. There were also the examples of nonentertaining curmudgeons and battle axes, who seem to be both memorable and good teachers.
Charles W. Claybaugh said that some teachers do things that can get in the way of students' learning, but these lapses can be overcome by "teachers who really have a desire to impart learning to their students." He argues well for the teacher who is passionately engaged with the students and the subject. The desire of the teacher is a key to student learning.
According to Carl D. Clark of Magna, the problem is that "much of our entertainment does not build us up intellectually or morally. It tends to degrade - to cause us not to care very much about anyone but ourselves and to do only what is pleasant." The point is that learning is sometimes difficult and tedious and entertainment is neither.
Clark even chided me a bit for asking about teachers entertaining. "I hope educators will not worry about whether they are entertaining enough but will prepare themselves to teach well what they teach and remember that those who are serious about learning will learn and those who are not serious will go on complaining that learning is boring."
I agree but wonder what society is to do with those who choose not to be educated and use boredom as an excuse.
A former teacher from Maryland, Raone Elzinga, indicated that the expectation that teachers be entertaining can drive good teachers out of the profession. There are some people who know their stuff, are committed to teaching others, are articulate, and are fairly comfortable in front of a group but who just cannot entertain. "It certainly is no fun trying to get 33 other students to continue working on a project after one has announced that the project is bo-r-i-n-g!"
The problem with entertainment, according to Ranae Mann of Farmington, is that "entertainment tends to be passive." Learning on the other hand is active. She explained that what really makes a class boring is "lack of interaction." She suggested that some of the things teachers can do to make a class more interactive could be interpreted as entertainment but the fact that these activities are not passive puts them a step beyond entertainment.
"I think that students really do not respond to pure entertainment for very long. Even as youngsters, if they start to feel like all there is to school is fun, they will find something more fun. They know that they are there to learn something, and at all levels, students want to learn something useful."
Marilyn R. Walker of Kaysville used the term "involvement" instead of "interaction." She said that it was important that students respond. There are many ways for teachers to demand a response but the most import element of the response is that it include the "ideas" or "opinions" of the students.
"The easiest way to teach is to lecture. And the easiest way to get through a class is to just sit and take notes. When a teacher expects a response, the students have to think and they have to be prepared. The teacher also has to be prepared because the discussion doesn't always go exactly as planned."
According to Walker, the idea that a response is expected is a valuable skill long after the formal course of study has been completed. People who respond will not accept passive entertainment. When they read a book or watch a movie, they will evaluate it. They will know that statements made by important people can be challenged. They will look past what is printed in the newspaper and try to evaluate what they have read.
If a society that responds and questions is one of the products of our education system, we will have won whether or not the system entertained. If entertainment gets in the way of informed response it certainly shouldn't be part of the classroom.
Roger G. Baker is associate professor of English/education at Snow College. Comments or questions about "Learning Matters" may be addressed to Roger Baker, English Department, Snow College, Ephraim, UT 84627.