Mar 5, 2007

"Duties Included Teaching, Paperwork, and Dungeon Mastering."

"You tell him that he's an alcoholic jerk," said the mouse puppet, "and if he wants to see me again, he has to stop drinking!"
"Okay," said my student, grinning at the felt animal, "I'll tell him." I put the mouse puppet under the table, and got out the hippo puppet.
"Hello, there!" said the hippo puppet.
"Hello," said my student to the puppet. "Your girlfriend was just here. She wanted me to tell you that you're an alcoholic jerk, and if you want to see her again, you need to stop drinking."
"What?!" said the incredulous land mammal.
My student, at this point, was laughing quite a bit. "She said you need to stop drinking. I think she's right."
The lesson was all about reporting speech- "She wanted me to tell you..." "She said..." "She told me to tell you..." etc. With many students, I'd have had them give messages to each other, but with just one student, I needed a gimmick. So, I got two of the puppets that I sometimes use in kids' classes, and had them fight. The hippo and mouse were a couple who had a terrible argument, and it was my student's job to act as mediator. The hippo was a fat drunk, and the mouse had been having an affair with Hiroshi the delivery man.
Fortunately, my student was able to successfully get them back together, all the while making gleeful use of the lesson's target language. I however, was just thinking to myself "I'm getting paid to play with puppets and make this girl laugh." Life, at that point, was sort of awesome.

What's funny, is that doing stupid stuff like that has actually made my lessons better, not worse. I sort of worried that such actions would be viewed as unprofessional, or that my students would not take me seriously. But, I've found out that when people are relaxed and laughing, their learning ability goes way up.
So, I do dumb stuff in class like making puppets fight. It's amazing, really. When I do this, English isn't something to be dutifully studies or memorized, it turns into something that can be fun and weird. Which is why Dungeons and Dragons is great teaching practice.
Really. D&D helped make me a better teacher. That's right, everyone- fantasy roleplaying games where one pretends to be a halfling have real world applications. Geeks everywhere, you may commence with the rejoicing.
I doubt anyone reading this blog is unacquainted with D&D, but for any chance strangers who are not, here's how it works: A bunch of people sit around and pretend to be stuff they're not. Say, dwarves or something. One person pretends to be Gorfak the Dwarf, someone else pretends to be Fakgor the Dwarf, and still another person pretends to be Bob the Dwarf. One more person invents a world and situations in which these dudes can do stuff. This person is the Dungeon Master.
"You step into the dungeon and you see a troll," says the Dungeon Master (or, DM).
"I hit it with my axe," proclaims Fakgor the Dwarf whilst taking a swig of Mountain Dew.
"It dies," says the DM.
"Huzzah!" exclaim the various dwarves.
And so on.
Back in the states, I played a fair amount of D&D, and usually liked to take on the role of the DM. It was more fun for me to play as various trolls, orcs, vampires, ghosts, zombies, lizardmen, minotaurs, dragons, skeletons, goblins, etc., than as a single character. I also enjoyed constantly having to make up new situations, characters, and worlds for the players to interact with.
Being an English teacher, I've found, is remarkably similar to being a DM. Or, at least my terminally geeky brain has come to that conclusion.
I oftentimes have students do roleplays in class to practice different types of situations. Most of these roleplays are pretty non-weird; they're stuff like "You're the boss, you're the employee," and such. But every so often I slip some odd ones in- recently I had a class where I decided that, appropos of nothing, I would slip robots into all of my example sentences and situations. The students didn't really notice it at first, but by the end they were laughing and enjoying themselves at the broad absurdity of it all.
I keep thinking how it would go over if I tried to run an actual roleplaying game with my students. But, instead of with axes or swords or whatever, they had to use English grammar to kill monsters. I'm thinking something like:
"You're all in a dark chamber filled with zombies. The zombie's only weakness- The pluperfect subjunctive!"
"Eeeek! If I'd known zombies were in here, I would not have come!"
"Ker-splat! A zombie's head explodes!"
I don't think that I'm geeky/shameless enough to try someting like this, and I imagine that most students would give me a sort of blank, weird stare if I attempted something like this. But, nevertheless, teaching English and managing students is a lot like talking to people who are pretending to be elves. At the end of the day, the same sort of communication, explanatory, and group-management skills are needed in either position, as well as enough presence of mind and charisma to make sure that everyone is having a good time.
Now, if I can only find a practical application for all those video games I've played...

1 comment:

Kori the tomorrow lady said...

that's awesome. I can't wait until I start teaching again (still just doing interviews at a new school).

p.s. since being up in the country/boooonies I have fallen in love with Tokyo all over again.