How does one 'seem' more enthusiastic?

So, for the past year and a half I’ve been teaching a university class to second year students. Every semester the students have a chance to submit feedback about the course instructor, and that feedback is passed on to me. Two days ago I got my feedback from last semester

Overall I generally get pretty positive comments, and this time was no exception. I usually get nice comments, like that I’m helpful and thorough or that I know the material really well. These things are good. But of course there are also a few negative and even downright nasty comments. I try not to take these too hard, but over time I’ve noticed that there is a common theme to these comments.

Apparently I ‘seem unenthusiastic’, or ‘seem like I don’t care’, or even (on one occasion) ‘seem like I hate them’. The thing is, I don’t feel that way at all. I enjoy teaching, I like the material, and really go above and beyond the amount of time I am paid for in preparing material, answering questions after class and by email, and providing feedback to students. It is kind of upsetting to me that people would think that I don’t care, when that is not true.

So, how exactly does someone go about seeming enthusiastic? It’s not a matter of an attitude change, because I already feel enthused, but I guess I don’t seem that way. Unfortunately I can’t change anything significant about the class itself - I lecture three times a week, but being as I’m but a lowly grad student, there is an actual professor in charge and the curriculum and exams are set by him. I feel like I should work on how I’m coming across, but I’m unclear about what I could change when I don’t really understand the basis of the problem.

Have you ever watched yourself teaching, like on videotape? Maybe there’s something you could perceive, if you saw it from the outside. Something you don’t even know you’re doing. Maybe frowning, not enough eye contact, talking too quietly or in a negative tone, sighing when a question is asked? I don’t know, I’m just guessing.

Like you said, you’re not sure what’s creating the impression. Try to figure that one out. If you can’t videotape yourself, ask a very trusted and candid friend (not someone you work with) to sit in on a class.

I haven’t seen myself teach, but I have seen myself give a talk (like, the kind you give at a conference as opposed to the kind you give as a student lecture). It was quite a horrible experience to watch myself like that - I was so distracted by how I looked that it was hard to concentrate on my presentation. But I do remember that I seemed really non-confident and nervous. I used to get comments about how nervous I was too, in my first year of teaching. And I was nervous - my heart would pound, I was all sweaty, and my voice would shake. I’ve worked on getting better at this, and now I feel more confident and I don’t get remarks like that anymore.

Thing is, I knew I felt nervous inside and therefore it was showing up outside, so I worked on the inside feeling (by giving myself little pep talks and stuff). But this time I don’t feel inside what is apparently showing outside.

Still, this is a good suggestion and I might ask a friend to sit in on the class. The problem is that I’m not sure I’ll act the same with someone there (or a video camera there).

I’d say heighten what you already do. If you’re thrilled to see students on the first day of class, bump it up a notch. Happy so many passed a test, be more effusive in your praise. Smile more.

And failing that, Hello Again’s suggestion is a great one. That way you’ll know exactly where they are coming from.

Have you considered the possibility that these are just generally pissed off students who are looking for anything negative they can say? If you’re getting good numbers and mostly positive comments, then it’s not clear that the problem is actually on your end.

Oh please don’t do this. This could go so wrong so quickly

This is a much better plan. Watch how you’re projecting and have some people you trust to watch them with you.

What do you teach?

Some ideas from my time teaching (some at a college level)…

Try to have some kind of shared ritual when you get the class started. It can be a question, or a three minute activity, or a stretch…anything that gets everyone on the same page. That’s a good start to getting them engaged in class. Just something short that you do every class meeting to get everyone in the “class” mode. A lot of the time “teacher is unenthusiastic” is code for “I am unenthusiastic” so you will have to use some tricks to raise their enthusiasm.

Be effusive with your praise, and smile. Even college kids still respond well to praise, and any positive reinforcement you can give will go a long ways. Remember that you are a teacher, but part of your role is also as an entertainer, even if you entertain them just enough to keep them engaged. It’d be nice if knowledge alone was enough to keep their eyes on you, but it’s not. Teaching is a customer service position in many ways.

During discussions, provide quick feedback on what the student said, and then open it up for comments “That’s a good point, Aaron. Do any of you think that blah blah blah…” Acknowledge what they say.

Let’s see…the teachers I can think of who “didn’t seem to care” were the ones who seemed unprepared or unorganized and had long periods of dead space in the classroom while they transitioned between activities. Do you manage your class time well, making sure you move along at the speed you need to? If you consistently find yourself falling behind and not covering all the material, that can seem like a lack of enthusiasm. If this is what is happening, try making your last half of class more modular, so that if you fall behind you can easily cut things without the students catching on.

Do you have your lecture and activities well planned so that you move along at a good pace? Do you keep class discussions on track and don’t let the wander too far from the topic at hand? If you don’t keep a reasonably tight focus on classroom discussion, the students may think you’re fine just talking about anything. Make sure they understand the point of the activities and things you do in class- explain your objectives.

Finally, try giving your own quick midterm evaluations of the class (are you satisfied with what is being covered? Is it moving at to fast or two slow of a pace, etc.), share the results with your students, and accomodate what requests you can accomodate. It’ll only take ten minutes and they will appreciate it.

When we hung around sets when our kid was acting, we found that the one trait actors universally shared was the ability to turn on when the camera was rolling. And do it consistently. I don’t know how much it can be taught or learned, and how much it is natural. When my daughter first went to audition, she and all the other kids were asked to say “I love Cheerios”. That was enough for them to winnow about 95% of the kids at the open audition.

I have this ability also, and I get very high scores for conference presentations. Here are some things which might help.

If you are thinking about the talk and the past, thing about good talks and not bad talks.
Remember it is more important to move on rather than correct minor mistakes. That derails the presentation. Or make a joke about it.
The most important thing - get your energy up. Think to yourself that it isn’t Meyer6 up there, it is a teacher or presenter of Meyer6, and that you are actually playing a role.
When I was teaching in grad school the original Gong Show was on, and I went in doing Chuck Barris. “Alright, we got a lotta stuff today!” I think the students thought I was weird, but no one fell asleep in my class.
I assume that when you teach you involve your class, right? You ask questions, you ask specific students and not the class in general? I learned from moderating a panel with a famous professor on it that you can do it in conferences also. He asked the audience for a show of hands about their feelings for the subject of the panel. If you have anything like this in a paper, you can check in with the audience, which brings them back to you.

This is certainly a possibility, and that’s what I thought was happening at first. The comment forms are sent out to all students but filling them out is optional, and many students don’t (response rate was about 40% this time). So unfortunately those that respond tend to be either the ones that love you, or the ones that have an axe to grind. Also, the responses are all anonymous, so there is no way to know what good students think as opposed to poor students. From what I remember from undergrad though, at least some students are just mad because they are failing the class and they’ll take it out on anyone.

Problem is that while I only get a few negative comments, they seem focused on this particular issue. If it was *just *about pissed off students I’d expect there to be more variety in the complaints.

Why would this be a bad thing? Just being more of yourself, I mean.

Molecular genetics

Actually, this is the opposite of my issue. I have to move pretty fast to get through the material I have - my classes are planned pretty clearly in advance and they go at a good clip. Sometimes I feel like I’d like to slow down a bit, but I don’t set the curriculum and if I want to cover everything that will be on the exams, I have to keep moving.

I do have trouble with the energy sometimes. That’s something to work on, and I find it hard some days. I try to involve the class, but often it seems to fall flat and none of them want to say anything (I have tried the show of hands, and that works better, but you can only do that so much). I feel like it would be easier to involve them if it was a humanities type course - it’s not like we can discuss peoples opinions about the Mendelian Theory of Inheritance.
ETA: I cut bits and pieces of these posts to make them easier to answer, but I did read all of them (and everyone else’s) and they were helpful, thanks.

I’ve had the same criticism givben to me by clients, which confused my bosses, who knew how hard I worked.

My problem was terrible presentation skills, including:

Little or no eye contact
Monotonic voice, often described as “you sound like you’re reading, not talking.”
Poor body language, either slouching or unnaturally stiff, no gestures
No facial expression, either smiling or frowning
Lack of interaction with the people I was speaking to.

And yes, it took a lot of work to get to “passable” and yes, it still feels like I’m faking it. But I feel like I’m faking it less than I did in the past.

Can you ask a friend to sneak into the back of the room at a random time?

Interesting. How exactly did you work on the issue? I mean, did you try to change one thing at a time, just concentrate on that for a certain amount of time? Or did you do it all at once? Did you find it hard to think about changing your behaviour while still thinking about the stuff you were saying? I feel like I’d start to make mistakes if I split my attention like that.

Practice and feedback. I took the Dale Carnegie course. That’s really intended for people in sales, but a lot of the stuff they put you through works for just about anyone who has to interact with another human being.

One thing that worked for me was admitting my problem – yes, I was really good at what I did, but I wasn’t capable of putting my brilliance across to other people. At that point it turned into a challenge. If it takes eye contact and good posture to help me deliver my point, then by golly, I’ll stand up straight and make eye contact.

Another thing that helped was that I did a lot of acting in school. I wasn’t a particularly good actor, but I learned to take direction. I’d ask a co-worker (they were afraid to send me out alone on presentations) to critique me. Did I look comfortable up there? Did I sound like I knew what I was talking about? Did I sound like I believed what I was saying? Was my tone positive or negative? And my boss was asking my co-worker the same things and getting feedback from my clients, so I was getting pretty honest feedback.

As for splitting my attention, I never felt like I was doing that. Instead, I put it all into a little checklist. Make sure the slides are in order, stand up straight, make sure you collated the handouts, make eye contact, okay, now you’re ready. In other words, I made the style of presentation one with the content of the presentation.

Like I said, it didn’t come easily or quickly. But once I started working on it, I did get better.

I am often distracted by people giving a talk, or teaching or some such and consider them to “not seem enthusiastic” when they don’t smile or look at their audience with some sort of connection. But I’m old and so I’ve learned from experience that how a person appears, isn’t always how they may look to me. Your students (I’m guessing are young college students?), probably haven’t figured this out yet.

I don’t know about your students who are making that connection, but sometimes, even if a person feels happy and cheerful inside, his/her face is such that, when its relaxed, he/she appears to be unenthusiastic or happy.

Do you make little jokes to break the ice? Get to know your students by name and include them in little “in-jokes” (Mild and non-insulting of course!)? Stuff like that? Basically things that make the student feel as if you know him as an individual.

Oh and SMILE, and smile OFTEN.

Using the tips in this thread will not hurt you and can only help you.

But I tend to think, as well, that bitter students were just grasping at straws to find something negative to say about you. (Well, she obviously knows what she’s talking about. And I can’t find a problem with her teaching style. I know! She’s a chick and this is the best way to hurt a chick’s feelings!)

On what basis do you think it had anything to do with the OP being female? Do we even know the OP is a woman?

Speaking as someone who every semester writes professor evaluations, they’re probably just pissed off and think if you get enough unenthusiastic reviews you’ll get canned. Students are vindictive and dumb.

I reread the OP and you’re right, they don’t state what gender they are. I guess I don’t have a logical basis to think OP is a woman. I just assumed it based on the content and the way it was typed.

Sorry if that’s not the case.

My students are generally about 19-20. I have a few mature students and I feel like I get along with them better, partially because I am closer in age to them (I’m 32), and partially because they seem a bit more serious about the whole thing.

The ‘angry face’ thing is something I have always had a problem with. When I’m reading or thinking people will ask me “what’s wrong?”, because I guess my natural expression is easily interpreted as mad or sad. I try to overcome this by consciously looking happier, but maybe I’m not doing it enough.

The jokes are tricky. I am actually a natural joker, and usually I can make people laugh in conversation, but somehow I can’t seem to be funny under these circumstances. I prepare my lectures pretty thoroughly, and any attempt I make at humour comes out as scripted and forced. I think I need another person (or people) to play off of. This is one I’d like to work on, but it seems difficult to work on being funny - the effort sort of ruins the effect, you know?

I am in fact female. I have no idea if that has anything to do with it though.