Classroom PRESENCE – what actually is it?


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I’m going to add another part to the title – Classroom Presence, what actually is it? And how do you sustain it?

I was part of an interesting observation lesson today. The teacher was well prepared, knew the grammar well, used all the CELTA key teaching techniques and was punctual, professional not to mention a nice guy. The class were bored, disengaged and eventually disrespectful.

What could have possibly gone wrong?

Good question. This is the very thing that happens again and again all over the world in classrooms, to teachers and everyone ends up blaming the class. The students or children are just down right disrespectful, unruly, don’t care about anything and should be beaten with a stick until they submit!

Well…sometimes there are difficult classes, admittedly, but these are not as common as you think. I’m going to jump right out there and say that in most cases it is the teachers fault, why? Because they probably lack ‘classroom presence’.

I remember one occasion when I was a new teacher in a school and the previous teacher told me that the class was very difficult and wished me all the best. Not something you want to hear. As it turned out the class was a little bit tough initially but actually once I go to know them, they were quite amazing, so many personalities and so much great energy. The previous teacher came into the room on one occasion for a few minutes to collect something then left but later came to me and asked me a question.

She said “I came into your class today and I couldn’t help noticing how quiet and busy they were. I looked over at the little girl who used to make my life a misery and she was playing with something – and disrupting others, just like she did when I was teaching her – then you suddenly looked at her and she stopped and put the thing away. So I ask you – how did you get the girl to do that without even saying a word, by just giving her one look?”

To be honest with you, I couldn’t answer the question. It really is something that you either have or you don’t have. It had something to do with confidence and being able to command an audience (if you like). Like an actor going onto the stage – it takes great confidence to stand there and be yourself and let everyone think whatever they want about you and not care, except care that they listen to you, because you have something important to say, and they better listen.

That in a nutshell is ‘having a presence’. Whether it is in the classroom or on a stage, it is all the same. If you rely on your mind and logic to work out the way to deal with other people (namely your class students), you are doomed to fail. You need to find that sweet spot of being able to relax and be yourself, and at the same time make sure everyone is watching you and not wasting your time.

In many countries classroom presence consists of instilling so much fear into the students that they are afraid to speak. In other places classroom presence is the extreme opposite with zero injection from the teacher. Both are pointless and allow for limited learning.

My suggestion is that if you are a new teacher and you are having problems managing your class, stay the distance for at least 6 months then ask yourself this question – ‘Am I enjoying teaching?’ If your answer is ‘yes’, then do whatever you can to find techniques to deal with your management problems. If you aren’t interested in dealing with these problems you are headed for a lifetime of being eaten alive by the class, each and every day. Something no one would ever want.

Tough call but true.

Would like to know more about what others think of what classroom presence is all about too!


8 thoughts on “Classroom PRESENCE – what actually is it?

  1. The problems with classroom PRESENCE are : 1: many of the teachers are more concerned with the monetary aspect than love for the children 2: Some employers have put the teachers in a straight jacket ‘dos’ and ‘donts’ that may not benefit a particular class 3: Many teachers have to consciously change their attitude and see positivity in the learners and not their present behaviours
    See each student in a class as unique then fashion ways of making their uniqueness a unity

    • Great point. I find that a lot of teachers are actually very uncomfortable in their role as a teacher, they see it more as a clerical job than a vocation. Somewhere a long the line they disconnected with their passion for it and have spent the remainder of their life just ‘going through the motions’ and complaining. What a miserable life they must have when work constitutes 80% of most of our day. But then again, a lot of people out there are just like that, they don’t know any different and think that all teachers feel the same and that they are the only ones telling the truth. Oh dear….what do we do?

  2. Very very interesting topic and this is something I have long thought about too. Classroom presence, what does this actually mean? For me, it’s an atmosphere that is related to your personality as a teacher and how you view your students etc. Do you believe the process of learning is done In silence with a little fear to earn respect and a distant relationship or with curiosity, a little energy and getting to know them. Personally I always take the latter but establish rules from day 1. Having the students establish the rules with me, in sense handing them the power and having them say “hey, we as a group made that rule, why aren’t you following it?” in sticky situations – Not the teachers a dick and he’s put these rules in place to ruin our lives. kids are amazing, our job in a sense is to, in an educational sense and life sense, raise them in an enjoyable learning environment. I know this differs from culture to culture but this has always worked for me. What do you think? thanks for starting this discussion !

    • I love the way you start of your class – with the class making the rules, that’s really great, however there are still so many teachers who for some reason are just not that advanced in their thinking. They still view a teacher as the boss and all must follow, or there is hell to pay, and it usually ends up being the teacher who ends up paying!

  3. Wonderful topic, and one that is so important for new and veteran teachers alike. Recently I needed to sub for one class in a group of 27 middle-schoolers, and I was afraid they were a bit young at grade 7, and with a lower level of English-language proficiency than I was used to. So I went in with the idea of a) giving them something that was within reach but not too taxing (they had to read a paragraph, discuss it, and write a sentence in response) b) the activity involved what I thought was an interesting moral choice and a follow-up question or two on what they or their classmates would have done, and c) changing activities when things got boring for them. The last part was very helpful and I got them up, doing pronunciation challenges that causes them to need to listen closely either to me or their classmates. What a fun class! After being slightly afraid of going in there, I enjoyed it so much that the lesson was used again.

    The article makes some great points about some teachers who get caught up in clerical aspects of teaching or complaining. I would say that one key feature of teaching, besides the obvious point of knowing the subject and helping your students learn it, is that we need to constantly put ourselves in the shoes of our students. You would not have enjoyed an iron grip on your class, so they won’t, and if you have fun with presenting a topic or information, they will likely enjoy it as well.

    • Exactly, I think understanding that what you do needs to be something that you would think is good to receive too is an important point. Saying that I do think problems with classroom presence has something also to do with believing control and submission is the key. Somehow, somewhere along the line some people believe that is the only way someone can be heard, to be interesting and unique in the class is usually way out of their realm of comfort and so see it as a failed approach, because it is difficult to control and measure.
      Perhaps also it is the difference between the fact that some people see things ‘half full’ and others see them as ‘half empty’.
      Thanks for your input!

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