The Real Class Clown
You’re smart, wise, interesting and above all, you’re eager to lend a helping hand; and those are all essential qualities in a teacher. But you’re forgetting one key attribute, entertainment. What’s the point of a show if it doesn’t hold your attention? Teaching is a set of short shows, and no one wants a flop.
Christian Bale sums up teaching when he says, “It’s the actors who are prepared to make fools of themselves…who come to mean something to the audience.” What does acting have to do with teaching? Everything! The classroom is the stage, the subject is the script, the students are the audience members (and critics, ouch) and the teacher is the lonely one-man show. It’s up to each teacher to play to their audience and as we know, the more entertaining the actor, the more the audience will beg for more.
I Am Your Teacher, Not a Clown
“I’m going to be a teacher, not a kiddie clown” you’re saying to yourself. Ha! Write me after your first day with that attitude, Professor! Honestly, entertaining students is the best part of being a teacher, and the best part of teaching English in Thailand. Language is so exciting, but grammar rules and teaching six year-old how to say, “Po-tat-o chip” can get tedious, for everyone! The teachers can become even more bored than the students, and nothing breaks up monotony like a little unabashed silliness.
Thai students are different from every other student in the world in that they are encouraged to laugh all the time. They laugh at each other, their parents, TV stars and even their teachers. The children are especially ready to laugh; they make fun of each other all day long. If somebody doesn’t know the answer, every child will laugh, but when it’s their turn to answer, turn-about is fair play and they get made fun of just the same. The best part of teaching in Thailand is the student’s willingness to play along and have fun.
But this absurdity doesn’t just instantly occur, it has to be created by the teacher. The person in charge (that’s you, by the way) has to demonstrate that it is fun to be laughed at. No one wants to be the tail end of a joke, especially in a micro-society environment like a school. However, if people see the leader intentionally putting themselves in a position of ridiculousness and getting attention, they too will want that same attention, and then everyone is playing charades.
Can we just state the obvious, foreigners are funny? Foreigners, speak with weird accents, move in awkward ways, they wear abstract clothing, in general, a foreign teacher is wild. And my recommendation is to totally play to that stereotype. It’s ok for students to make mistakes and take their licks with their new language, but the only way for you to tell them this, is to show them. You too have to take your licks with a new culture and let them correct your pronunciation, your tones, and make it entertaining for all of you.
There is a fine line between putting yourself in an inferior position and making the students laugh versus losing their respect. A teacher has an obligation to be a leader, to facilitate the student body into a state of learning while maintaining a healthy and safe environment; but does it have to be so boring? I’m not recommending you act stupid or literally be an actor, but I’m recommending you let down some of your barriers, dare to be entertaining and have a little fun.
Robin Williams said two great things, “Comedy is acting out optimism,” and “…Words and ideas can change the world.” So what do you say, Teacher? Let’s combine both and set the stage for a whole new world.