Tag Archives: humour

Never Let Them See You Teach

3 Jul

There’s an intersection between the role of stand-up comedian and teacher.

Both stand alone before groups of people and try to engage their audience or class and move them to action (laugh/learn/both). Like stand-up comedians the best teachers write their own material (to rely on someone else’s lessons or text books is pretty hack) and are always ready to improvise when the needs of the class require it. And as most experienced teachers know, a little humour in the classroom can improve the learning. Because of this I’ve had a passing interest in what stand-up comedians have to say about what they do and how it helps me as a teacher.

I’ve been a fan of stand-up comedy in general and Bill Cosby specifically since I was young. I listened to his stand-up on vinyl and saw him perform in the early 80’s. It ranks up there with one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Recently, Cosby’s gone back to stand-up (did he ever leave?) and the stories of his shows are legendary. At his last performance at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal he did a two-hour show where he walked onto the stage, sat down, told TWO STORIES, killed and left.

Last week I was listening to an interview with Bill Crystal (not a fan) and he told a story about Cosby. When Crystal was coming up as a comedian he was also a big fan of Cosby’s. He was doing a set at a comedy club and looked up to see that Cosby was watching him at the back of the room. After the show and later they talked about comedy and Crystal related Cosby’s wisdom on what makes good stand-up comedy.

The secret he said is “Never let them see you work”. Good performances should come across as natural and unrehearsed. Be relaxed in the delivery and casually throw out things so that people think “wow, he’s naturally funny”. If people think it’s forced they put up resistance. The secret is to relax and get them to drop their defences.

I think the same is true of good teaching. Inexperienced teachers try to control everything and pre-plan learning so that nothing  can “go wrong”. As teachers get more experienced they develop more confidence and believe that, whatever happens, they can handle it. They relax more into the role and, in doing so, get students to relax, which increases engagement. Students think this is something you’re doing with them rather than to them.

This doesn’t mean that things aren’t prepared and planned, rather that when content or instructions are being delivered it doesn’t seem that way. It’s almost as if you’re deciding what to do there and then and you’re just as delighted and surprised by what’s happening. This leaves space for moments where something unexpected happens and suddenly learning is happening in a completely new, unplanned direction.

Most lesson plans and unit plans really miss the boat on this. Teachers need to have a general idea of where things are going but the route should be negotiable. After all, aren’t those the most interesting journeys?


Best Teachers on TV

18 Nov

It’s weird that education and schools don’t get more representation on TV. Schools are a bigger part of people’s daily lives than police, lawyers or hospitals, but there are hundreds of shows that revolve around those professions and very few that feature schools and education.

There are however a few teachers on TV and here are the best.

Who did I forget or miss? Tell me in the comments:

1) Roland Pryzbylewski, The Wire (Jim True-Frost

Quote: ” I don’t get it. All this so we score higher on the state tests? If we’re teaching the kids the test questions, what is it assessing in them?”

Bio: Pryzbelewski is an incompetent detective in Seasons 1-3. At the end of season 3 he retires and in Season 4 becomes a middle school math teacher allowing the series to explore the links between the failures of the school system and violence on the streets of Baltimore.

Why I like him: Pryzbelewski cares deeply about his students and does the best he can while recognizing that he is working in a very imperfect system.

2) Charlie Moore, Head of the Class (Howard Hessman) 

Bio: Out-of-work actor Charlie Moore is a substitute teacher, assigned to the Individualized Honours Program (IHp) class, a gifted class. He makes it his mission to get them to think rather than merely to know. He is there to listen and shows an unswerving ability to get the students to solve their own problems while making it seem like they came up with the answers on their own.

Why I like him: The curriculum is problem based learning that empowers the students back in 1986. A reminder that these are not new ideas.

3) Gabe Kotter, Welcome Back Kotter, (Gabe Kaplan

Quote: “Buchanan is not anywhere. It’s in Bensonhurst, which is in Brooklyn, which is where I spent four degenerate years as a student. You know how rough that is? The gangs there don’t use guns. They insert the bullets manually.”

Bio: Mr. Kotter is a well-meaning, teacher who returns to Buchanan High after ten years to teach the Sweathogs, a group of remedial students. He has an affinity for the potential of these students because he was a founding member of the original Sweathogs. He teaches Social Studies, and frequently role-plays events to the class.

Why I Like Him: Anyone whose taught students who struggle to learn know that it’s incredibly hard and frustrating. Flexibility and a sense of humour is key. Mr. Kotter has both of those.

4) Phil Gilbert, The Inbetweeners, (Greg Davies

Quote: “This isn’t The Dead Poets Society and I am not that bloke on BBC 2 that keeps getting kids to sing in choirs.”

Bio: Mr Gilbert is the permanently angry head of sixth form and answers to the headmaster of the school. He has a biting wit and sarcasm which he uses to convey his dislike of his job and the children for whose care he is responsible.

Why I like Him: Greg Davies was a secondary school teacher for 13 years. In his time he no doubt encountered many angry and burnt out teachers. He offers a note perfect parody of someone who shouldn’t be working with students, but is.

5) Helen “Greg” Gregson, Summer Heights High (Chris Lilley

Quote: “I’m always joking with the principal. I always say to Margaret, ‘you’ve got yourself an entertainment industry professional for the price of a teacher! So where’s my pay rise?’”

Bio: Mr G, is a drama teacher at Summer heights High. He believes he is an incredibly talented and well-liked teacher and that his students share his intense passion for drama and performance. He is in constant conflict with other members of staff, and the school principal in particular.

Why I Like Him: Chris Lilley, the creator of Mr. G & Summer Heights High trained to be a teacher and is another actor with insider knowledge of education. Mr. G is the kind of teacher who makes it all about him. The teacher who didn’t succeed in their chosen field and so retreats to teaching even though it’s obviously beneath them 🙂

Kids Say The Darndest Things

6 Mar

Sometimes I get so caught up in creating learning situations I forget to make sure it’s connected to reality. I was reminded of that today.

A pre-service teacher in my classroom was trying to help students understand point of view. To do this he used the old story about a group of blind men visiting a circus and encountering an elephant. Each of the men experienced a different part of the elephant and based on the point of view assumed it was something else.

He evaluated students progress of developing this skills by asking students a series of questions.

One students heard the story and sat thoughtfully thinking. When the pre-service teacher asked him “How did the men describe the elephant” he looked at him and said, confused, “Why would six blind men go to a circus?”