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  • by Blaine Helwig

New Teacher Tips by “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

“The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel” is an Emmy winning Amazon Prime video series (4 Seasons) about a New York City divorcee who pursues a career in stand-up comedy, circa 1960. Its content writing, acting, satire and cultural revelations are first-rate amazing! If the reader has not yet tuned into the series, watch the first Season’s episode and binge-watching addiction is sure to follow.

The Shakespearean adage “All the World’s a Stage” possesses a direct connection to the daily workings of an elementary school – a building filled with many separate stages and small audiences. The teacher stands alone on their stage, as does the comedian, connecting with their audience – in one profession, for short laughs and in the other, for facilitating and developing thinking. However, before watching the Mrs. Maisel series, it never occurred to me the commonalities between successful stand-up comedy and public school teaching. (In emcee presenter voice) So, without further ado, I am pleased to introduce Mrs. Maisel and her pedagogical tips for entry-level teachers to assist in the development of their professional craft.

Mrs. Maisel’s Top 10 Tips for Entry-Level Elementary Teachers

1.) Know Your Audience and its Background Knowledge – When Mrs. (Midge) Maisel performs in Las Vegas, she tells jokes that require background knowledge about New York City and the east coast. The audience did not possess the background knowledge to grasp the punchline of her jokes. This situation is also common in the typical elementary classroom. The teacher must know the content they are presenting students and its dependent background skills and/or information otherwise their students fail to connect salient content and ‘get’ the teacher’s ‘joke.’

2.) Performance (Lesson) Preparation – Midge hires a professional writer to create jokes for her. However, she does not practice them prior to going up on stage and reads his jokes from index cards. Her performance is poorly received. If a grade level teaching team is dividing the lesson plan writing duties for each core subject or scripted lesson plans are readily available, make sure that you (i.e. the teacher) understand the thought and depth behind the prepared plans. Furthermore, peruse your lesson plans the night before or before the children arrive so the day’s lesson is mentally mapped, and all that is needed throughout the day is a quick glance at the lesson.

3.) Relationship Building – The comedian and the teacher desire acceptance by their perspective audiences. However, the comedian must build that relationship quickly, but the teacher does not. Teachers have time on their side. All positive human relationships are time dependent and with consistency and time, trust is firmly established. A teacher needs to be time deliberate, consistent in daily routines, and most importantly, exercise calm voice control regardless of the situation. Positive relationships naturally occur as a teacher creates a familial classroom environment where children feel confident, secure and welcome. Establishing a positive teacher-student relationship in the classroom is KEY to overall pedagogical success. Note: The author stresses a teacher-student and not a friend relationship. Undoubtedly, the students care for a teacher when they trust him or her. But, they are not in need of another friend. They need a caring and engaging teacher!

4.) Stage (Instructional) Delivery – Mrs. Maisel sets up her jokes via short anecdotal stories and information – rhetorically asking her audience questions that lead to a humorous punchline. A teacher’s anticipatory set (to garner the student’s attention) should have the same effect. It should promote interest in the core math, science or language arts lesson. Then, by the end of the lesson, the students may reflect on the teacher’s quick opening lines/anecdote, respond via writing in their journal, and share their responses with the class.

5.) Hecklers – An unabashed heckler is the bane of any comedian’s nightly performance. The disruptive student is the equal to the comedian’s heckler. The comedian can handle the heckler with reckless abandon for they will likely never meet that person ever again. Of course, this is NOT true for the classroom teacher since that student is coming back each day until the end of the school year. The commonality between the comedian and the teacher is advanced preparation, so the situation can be handled efficiently and effectively. The teacher must be mentally ready and prepared for the situation, take away the common disruption by using proximity of their body and/or moving the student's desk to the front of the classroom. If the disruption is sudden, de-escalate the disturbance by putting time on your side. See Keep a Minor Student Disruption – Minor for more information. Note: Generally speaking, a repeated student disruption indicates that the problem cannot be ignored. If ignored, other students observe that there is little to no consequence for misbehavior, and marginally disruptive students often ‘feed off’ the heckler’s negative behavior creating classroom chaos. At that point, campus administrators commonly refer a poorly functioning classroom as a ‘hot mess.’

6.) Adapting Content to Better the Next Performance (Lesson) – On the series, Midge tells a joke about a customer at B. Altman’s Department store (her day-time job) where a man wants to purchase an item to make his wife look like Elizabeth Taylor. It got a decent chuckle. Then, a quick number of repeated sets on different nights show her telling the same Elizabeth Taylor joke, but changing the punchline each time. With a new and better punchline, the laughter increases until she strikes gold by saying, ‘I told him to open his wallet and let his wife take all his money. Now, your wife IS Elizabeth Taylor.’ That punchline (on the same joke set-up) received roars of laughter from the audience. The teacher must do the same. Learn to find your style and adapt your lessons so you are the most effective regardless of the day. The teacher is not looking for laughs, of course, but he or she is searching for the ability to adapt their content to be the most engaging and successful to heighten their students' daily learning.

7.) Improvement with Practice – Whatever task/skill is practiced with consistent effort, a human being becomes more adept at it. Stand-up comedy and classroom teaching are not exceptions; consistent and reflective practice improves performance. Thus, a teacher practices their craft daily and then reflects – what went well, what did not, and what can I do better next time? Note: It is highly recommended to journalize that day’s experiences after the children depart for the day. A novice teacher is in the learning stages of developing their craft – keep a record of the journey.

8.) Bombing – Mrs. Maisel opens up her nightly comedy act expecting her normal success. The crowd does not respond positively to her jokes. She leaves the stage and tells her manager (Suzie), “That crowd is awful.” Her manager responds, “A different comedian was on stage earlier, and he killed with the same audience. It is you! You bombed, and you will bomb, again and again!” Midge responds, “Bob Hope and Bob Newhart do not bomb. I have seen them many times.” Suzie says, “They bombed and bombed and bombed, so that they do not bomb professionally anymore.” A new teacher bombs a lot, and the author relays that statement to the reader from first-hand experience. Shake it off. Reflect: Why did the lesson bomb? What can I do to avoid its reoccurrence? Note: When a teacher is struggling in the classroom, it is NOT the children. Do not look for excuses – external from yourself. Honestly, reflect on your actions and your teaching. A successful educator cannot be self-deceptive!

9.) Learning from Accomplished Comedians (Teachers) – When Mrs. Maisel is beginning her stand-up career; she visits other nightclubs and observes celebrated comedians. She observes how veteran comedians effortlessly handle hecklers, engages their audience, and set-up their jokes. Both the novice comedian and beginning teacher are in ‘the learning and listening stage of their career.’ Thus, many novice teachers request to observe a seasoned teacher on the same grade level, and debrief after the lesson on salient points that are usually predetermined before the observation lesson. Then, discuss how those specific points are transferrable to the novice teacher’s daily instruction. Warning: It is not (generally) recommended to emulate the veteran teacher’s style, delivery or personality. Take their years of experience and success and make it ‘fit’ into your unique teaching style. Discovering how to teach children using your individual persona invariably makes a beginning educator more effective.

10.) Handling Constructive Criticism Reflectively – Comedians’ performances are critiqued each night by their audiences’ reactions to their set – immediate feedback. Noted entertainment critics evaluate them, too. Both types of reviews can be glowing, or they may be painful. In the public schools, parents, other teachers and administrators may comment on a novice teacher’s effectiveness – as with a comedian, there will be positive and constructive comments. In these situations, it is important to remain professional and open-minded to criticism without responding defensively. If it is a fellow educator – teacher or administrator – ask questions and drill down on next steps for specificity that improves ‘your’ craft. Note: It is often beneficial to videotape your instruction, so specific points can be addressed ‘in real’ time for corrective action, as needed, or observe a lesson from a seasoned teacher (e.g. number 9 above).

11.) BONUS TIP – Effective Classroom Management and Efficient Daily Routines – A comedian does not require this effort, their performance is short and not repeated with the same audience day after day. However, that is not true for the classroom teacher! Thus, a teacher should spend the time establishing clear classroom expectations (e.g. 3 to 5 general behavior expectations with associated consequences) and consistently enforce those rules from the first day of class to the last day of school. Additionally, efficient daily classroom routines should consistently be established and practiced with the children as well. These two classroom systems will maximize student time on task and heightened learning throughout the school year. Warning: If these two areas are not addressed or the teacher is inconsistent with implementation, fully expect diminished student achievement outcomes, and quite possibly campus administration visits to your classroom by the end of the third week of school. These rules and expectations establish a safe and secure learning environment –SAFETY is always goal number 1 in any public school.

Final Thoughts

Most novice teachers will struggle with some of these if not the majority of these areas of pedagogy. But, know this: with persistence and tenacity, it gets better. In fact, Al McGuire, the famous Marquette basketball coach, offered insight on incoming freshmen playing for his team – “the best thing about a freshman is that they become a sophomore.”

Of course, the same wisdom from Coach McGuire is true with entry-level teachers. With reflectiveness, the second year is better than the first, and the third year is cumulatively better than the first two years of teaching. By the end of year four, a teacher usually finds their professional posture, and they realize one thing: They want to contact the children that they taught their first year and profusely apologize for their poor stage performance. When that personal realization occurs, a teacher fully understands and is reflective of a professional educator's journey.

Mrs. Maisel Photo and all images on this and all blogs licensed from Adobe Stock Images.


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