Improv is another thing I’ve ruminated on in the past- it was I think the fourth post I ever wrote, written at the request of one Miss Brady after the murder mystery end-of-year masquerade social, over a year ago now. But today, I want to muse on it in a rather more specific musing. Muse, muse, specific musing. The role Improv has played in my teaching.
I stand by the fact that Improv is the most useful thing I learnt at uni. Chinese was a very handy practical skill, and there remain several other important lessons in determining how I live and work, but I don’t think I learnt any skill that was as enabling as Improv. The number of things I’ve been able to do as a result of those Sunday workshops (and troupe rehearsals, and shows, and so on) is pretty staggering. I could go on all day but it comes down to this: Through Improv, I learnt that you can stand in front of a crowd of expectant people with no plan, no preparation, no resources but your own quick thinking, and still deliver an excellent performance.
Many people ask me how Improv ‘works’- how can you stand in front of a crowd not knowing what’s going to happen and produce a five-minute sketch, let alone a whole hour-long play. Some folks have suggested we do it by just being naturally funny people, but in truth there are a whole slew of technical tricks and secrets that allow it to work as well. I won’t go into detail on them all here, but it’s these tricks and techniques that make the difference between a bunch of people farting around on stage and a bunch of people producing a proper show. In my current profession, it’s the difference between blindly leading a group of students through the set text, and actually delivering a productive lesson.
A great example is re-incorporation, the knack of remembering details set up early in a show and bringing them back later- either to help make the plot make sense, or for humour’s sake. It’s a technique I use in class to make sure that pupils remember the lessons they were taught at the beginning of class.
Another example is ‘finding the beats’, which is how we recognise when to end one scene and start another. Obviously with the scenes being unscripted, they all have the potential to either run on too long (and get boring), or cut too short (leaving the audience wondering what just happened). ‘Finding the beat’ is a term used in Improv for recognising a suitable point to end a scene; maybe a character just delivered a particularly dramatic line, a pause has been held long enough, or (in extreme cases) everyone else has walked off stage and all the lights have gone out. In teaching, this becomes relevant because it helps me to spot when any given exercise has gone on long enough and the kids are starting to get bored of it. But have they learnt the lesson the exercise was meant to teach yet? If no, then we can keep doing the exercise but you still need to change approach to work around the beat.
There are a million more Improv practices working their way into my teaching. Physicality helps to control the mood and atmosphere in a classroom. ‘Finding the game’ can be a great way to decide on group discussion. And there is always the motto at the centre of Improv, the key technique that enables all good Improv to work: accept and build. In classrooms, and in life, it teaches that you can take hold of anything a pupil says and turn it into a worthwhile lesson. Much better to take what you’re given and work with it, rather than wait for the perfect solution to turn up by itself.
Of course, many teachers utilise these skills without having learnt them at Improv lessons. But they can write about that in their blogs- this is not the blog of how everyone should learn, but how I have learnt.
So why improvise classes? Why not plan them in meticulous detail? Well of course I do plan classes- I don’t go in completely blind. But I’m teaching very young children, and they can be a mercurial and inconsistent bunch, leading the best-laid plans of both mice and men to often go astray. What I planned to take half an hour can sometimes be done in ten minutes, if the kids grasp it particularly quickly. And sometimes what I thought would take ten minutes takes the full hour. All sorts of factors can change the class and rapidly make my lesson plan as redundant as a sunroof in a submarine, and it’s then that the Improv comes in. No longer am I some fool of a teacher floundering to just kill time because the lesson ended too soon, or hastily tacking on extra exercises. Now, I have a plan.
Or rather, now I have no plan. The original plan has flown out the window, the backup plan has hurtled after it, and now I’ve got nothing. No plan, no preparation, absolutely nothing left to support me.
Just Improv. And thanks to Improv, in these situations I can still fearlessly deliver a damn good lesson.
I’ve already posted about patience once, but you know what? Some lessons are important enough to bear repeating, and this one is one that I can always practice.
So last week I mentioned that I was struggling to write a blog entry because of children jumping through the office door every ten seconds to point them at me and scream “PIAO PIAO PIAAAAAAAAOOOO”. This is a pretty regular occurrence on Sundays (when I typically write my blog), and has helped me to develop a patience so strong you could smash coconuts on it.
Because my days, these kids (and several others) bring me close to snapping at points. There are times when I want to leap out of my chair and shout “For the love of Christ, will you SHUT UP?!” or “For pity’s sake, how do you not understand, this is NOT DIFFICULT!” or “Dear God in heaven, just SIT DOWN and do your blasted work!” And to date, though I’ve come so, so close, I’ve yet to break.
Of course, some people would tell you “If the children are misbehaving, it’s because they’re bored- just make the lessons more fun!” To these people I say, “Go and teach a classroom and then come back at me to say that”. Of course I try to make the lessons fun, use games with an educational slant, and try to keep the children amused. But there’s a fairly built-in limit to how much fun one can make an exercise like writing out the letter ‘w’ twenty times (which is a part of the course I’m not allowed to alter), and to a small child it’s nowhere near as fun as jumping out of your chair to make it fall over, just so you can hear the bang it makes- and that’s an offence that will earn you two black spots and a very stern glare in my classroom. Oh yes, I can be severe. Children who do that get no stickers when class is finished.
And of course, I have on occasion shouted at the pupils. One has to. When a pupil is so engrossed in running around the classroom and scribbling on other children’s books, it can take a fairly loud voice to cut through the fog of their childish glee and get a response. Times like that, I’m just glad for Improv and all the projection exercises they gave me. But it’s always a controlled shout, nothing more than a tool to get the child to behave, same as black spots, gold stars, crayons, and the line “Go outside, and tell your father why you’ve been sent out” (the single worst punishment in my arsenal). It has, to date, never been a shout driven by vitriolic, personal rage.
Because it doesn’t matter how annoying they’re being (and they really can reach staggering peaks of annoyance), you can’t- you can never, ever- snap, and roar at them, “Dear God in heaven, will you just BE QUIET?!” Because that leads to crying and upset and weeks of friendly interaction turned sour, because now you’re the teacher that lost it and shouted. And that label will stick with you forever. You don’t want to be that teacher.
Fortunately, there is good news, and it’s twofold. One is that you learn my lesson number 24: a hell of a lot of patience. Repetition brings improvement, and I have bit my tongue and held my nerve so often that I don’t think a herd of stampeding wildebeest could break me anymore. The other good news is that if you hang in there, if you stick at it and keep trying for just long enough… they improve, and they leave the bad behaviour behind. My days it can take a long time, but it’ll get there. And there’s no feeling quite as rewarding as when the child that I once named ‘Tiny Lucifer’ on this very blog came up to me, hugged me (or rather, hugged my leg, since she couldn’t reach any higher) with both arms and said “Thankyou Teacher Daniel”.
That was a happy day.
At some point in the future, I will write a blog post about how much I’ve learned about patience, about being quiet when you want to explode, and understanding that children’s priorities don’t always align with yours. That day, however, is not today. It’s a big one, and I can’t focus on it right now because two boys are leaping through the door every eight seconds to point a toy gun at me and scream PIAO PIAO PIAAAAAAAO at the top of their lungs. The irony is not lost on me.
Instead, I’m going to write a blog entry about a skill I learnt this week that I’ve thought for some time I should have, as every man should be able to do this: I learnt to fillet a fish.
It’s a wonderfully simple process, but it’s very satisfying to start off with a whole fish and wind up with nothing but meat and chips.
Disclaimer: Chips don’t actually come from a fish. You have to make those separately. But you know, it’s still satisfying.
Here’s how you do it: chop the head off, just behind the gills. Give it a hefty whack with yon cleaver, or just use a carving knife. You might have to snap through some vertebrae. For a small-to-medium fish, you then want to hold it at the tail, and, laying your knife parallel to the table, cut up from the tail towards the head area, cutting one side of meat away from the vertebrae. You can use the spine as a guide here. Then either pull the spine out (if that’s easy enough) or just flip it over and repeat with the other side. For a larger fish you might have to butterfly it, but we’ll get to that another time.
And how to cook this tasty fish? Well, simple is sometimes best. Wrap it up in a tinfoil packet with half an onion, sliced up, a couple of slices of lemon, a hefty chunk of butter and some salt, cook that in the oven for twenty minutes, serve with chips. Simple, easy, delicious!
Hello readers- today we start with a question. DO YOU have trouble getting out of bed in the morning? DO YOU find yourself waddling bleary-eyed and heavy-footed around the house in the morning? DO YOU want to be more like James Bond? If you answered yes to any of the above, then WORRY NO MORE- for today, I have THE ANSWER! In CAPITAL LETTERS!
Alright, I’ll drop the American shopping channel voice and go back to normal.
Following last week’s post about starting the morning with an old-school shave, here’s another neat little trick to start the day. Because I’ve started getting up earlier so as to fill the hours with something other than my job, I’ve been looking for shortcuts to get me as awake and wide-eyed as possible in the time between falling out of bed and arriving at the workplace, bright, alert, and ready to go. Experiments with large amounts of coffee ended badly, usually about midday when I crashed harder than a bandicoot. At some point though I stumbled across this little gem online, and as horrified as I was initially, I can now confirm it works a treat.
Many folks like to start the day with a shower, and though I count myself among them, it’s not exactly something that wakes me up. If anything, I swear it makes me muggier and more bleary-eyed. I think the steam clogs my brain up or something. But enter the James Bond shower: shower normally with the water at whatever temperature you so desire, and then, in the last two minutes before you step out, turn it down to cold. Seriously, turn the hot water right off, and just leave it running on cold.
OK, don’t turn it right down. We’re not going the full Scandinavian here. Just get it… cool. You know. Cool enough to be noticeable, but not so frigid as to become unpleasant.
Does this idea abhor you? Why would you do such a thing?! Well here’s what surprised me: it’s not an entirely unpleasant experience. In actual fact, I found it a) very refreshing, and b) really good at waking me up- and no, not in a horrific, “ARGH, FREEZING WATER RUNNING ALL OVER ME!!” kind of way, but a very bright and fresh kind of way. Less like sticking your head in the freezer, and more like drinking a mai tai. Or an iced tea.
In a way, this makes sense. I keep hearing about people who go to hot saunas and then go swimming in a cool pool, or how those wacky Scandinavians go and steam in the hot springs before leaping in ice-cold water. It’s almost like there’s actually something in it, some peculiar method in the madness.
So go ahead, give it a shot- out of bed, hot shower, hot shower, washing, hot shower, mm steam, hot shower, two minutes left, hot water off and cold water on, cold shower for two minutes, get out. Try it once and see if it works for you!
Anyway, if you live in student accommodation there’s reasonable odds that any given morning the hot water’s going to suddenly cut off anyway. You might as well make it part of the plan.
Blimey, it’s been an educational week and no mistake. A lot of lessons learned, some personal, like how to take on responsibility when looking after a dog and what a task that can be, and some skill-based: I’ve signed onto three free online courses, in German (to get my language back up to scratch), advanced art techniques (I learnt to draw a water droplet!), and computer programming (currently learning HTML, so’s to prove wrong all those people who think I’m some technophobic druid!). And all of these will undoubtedly get entries in time, but not today. Today’s is a slightly eccentric post about shaving.
I used to hate shaving. I had one of those Gilette 5-bladed fusion power nuclear dynamo rocket kaboom bang wallop razors (pretty sure that was the name of it), and it was a nightmare. Gave me terrible razor burn, and left me with an itchy face all day long. Nightmare. But one of the lessons I’ve learned in recent months, thanks to an article posted on ArtofManliness.com (terrible name, great site- it’s all sorts of life advice for both men and women, ranging from shaving nd cooking to how to handle stress- check it out, I’ve taken a lot from it), is about the classic safety razor shave.
When my Gilette 5-bladed fusion kablooie finally started to show signs of not being suitable for use anymore, I decided it was time to replace it. I had initially intended to try an electric razor, but I got rather uneasy about holding a billion tiny motorised blades that close to my throat, so tried out what this article suggested: getting a double-edged safety razor. These razors were the bridge between the old cut-throat razors and the Gilette disposables in the late 1800’s, and honestly, it’s the best shave I’ve ever had.
The safety razor is a giant, hefty hunk of metal with a little platinum blade. You don’t apply pressure with your hand, but instead the weight of the razor does all the work for you. It’s only one blade on your face, not 5, and a much better quality one at that, and it’s fantastic. Plus you get to shave with a brush, lathering up the shaving foam with hot water, which is a delightful experience in itself! As a bloke, I could never allow myself to have a facial, but I think this is the manly equivalent. It’s a clean, close shave, comfy on the skin, and best yet, it’s a little bit of history to start the morning with.
At some point in the future I want to try out using a straight (cut-throat) razor (if it goes badly, I leave all my worldly goods to Emily Brady and Kenrick Davis, on the condition that they perform a duet from Sweeney Todd at my funeral), but for now, this is a fantastically badass-feeling, and tremendously trim and tidy, way to start the day.
So lesson number 21 is the double-edged safety razor shave. I got mine (a Merkur) on Amazon for about £20, and it is enthusiastically recommended!
My apologies right at the start, folks, it’s another tricky and not particularly fun entry today. I hate writing these ones, since deep down I suspect that most people read this blog for procrastination and a quick break from work, and they don’t want the reading to be too heavy. If that’s you, lovely reader, maybe best close the tab and get back to your dissertation. Or go over to Sporcle and see how many countries of the world you can name.
Kept me amused for hours, that did. My high score is 196. Flippin’ Barbados.
Still reading? Thanks, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I really struggled with writing this one, and I doubt it’s going to make for fun reading. But it’s the difficult lessons that are the most important ones, the ones we have to work to accept. Not everything I write can be about food and climbing trees, after all.
This is the second entry about my trip home, and relates to the first few days I spent there. After I got off the plane in Heathrow, Dad and my brother Greg picked me up and took me to the first and most important place on my UK trip- my family home, in Wales, and there I spent three very happy days with my parents and Greg. They were a fantastic three days, and like most of my holiday stays, flawed only by being too short.
And I’m not going to lie, this one really felt too short. I miss my family so much while I’m away, partly because I’m very lucky to have very strong family identity: we are the Hatfields, and this is what we are like. And since I was meeting other Wales friends too, I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I’d have liked. Add in the fact that I was compensating for jetlag in those early days, and trying to prepare for a visa application, and the three days whipped by far too quickly. I left home feeling that I had had a wonderful time, but a little wrong-footed and confused at how fast it had been.
And then I got out of the car, at the train station and Mum said “It was a short trip, wasn’t it? But I suppose that’s part of growing up, and moving away from home”.
And that was it. It had never occurred to me that one day I would move away from home, but I think we’re getting to that stage. University, for me, was always a place that I stayed in between the holidays. Wales was where I went back to, to stay for long summer holidays and warming winter breaks. It’s only really hit home in the last few days that since leaving uni, I don’t have summer holidays anymore. Lying in those back fields looking over the clear, green hills of my home, and eating Mum’s dinner with my family round the kitchen table is now a luxury, not a lifestyle.
This is why I can’t stay in China, not for too long. China is my new university- a place I’ll go for a while, but is really just a short spell in between stays at home. Although ‘home’ has taken on a broader definition of ‘the UK as a whole’. But right there in the middle, the heart of my home is still Green Hill, in west Wales- my house and home for eighteen years of my life. It breaks my heart to think that at some point I’ll have to relocate, but that is indeed part of growing up.
I love my family so much, and I know there will be many more visits, many more laughs, much more cooking and chatting and board games and sitting on the sofa together, being the clan that we are. I’m hoping for another Hattie Tour (a giant gathering of the whole extended Hatfield family on holiday) at some point in the future, as it’s been so long since the last one. The lesson here, then, is two things:
One, there has to come a time when the house you grew up in is no longer your home.
Two, doesn’t mean you can’t visit, keep in touch with, and dear God cherish and love the hell out of your family. And that is what this entry is really about. Love your family. Today’s entry is not numbered, because as far as I’m concerned it’s not lesson number twenty, it’s THE lesson. Not much I’ve learned has yet been able to top this, and so this post is devoted to my wonderful family, the Hatfields (and the Matthews’s- they’re part of the clan too). I’ll see you all again very soon.
It took my a while to work out what I wanted to say about my trip back to the UK. For the longest time, it didn’t really seem like it had a lesson to it- I had a fantastic time, saw many good friends, and… what, that isn’t enough? I had to learn a lesson too? I couldn’t for the life of me work out what I needed to say! But there was a lesson knocking about, and I finally pinned it down. It’s about reconnecting.
I’m terrible at keeping in touch. I really am. So often I found myself thinking of old friends “Huh, I wonder what they’re up to these days? Why don’t I know?”, and then suddenly realise “Oh, because I never asked them. I never talked to them after we left school”. Some folks are just inherently good at keeping tabs on everyone they ever know, and never lose contact. Me, I’m not that person. When I look back over my life for the last, ooh, twenty-something years, it’s one hell of a list of names.
If you think of your life as a movie (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?), there’s a hell of a cast list to it. It’s not just you and your half-a-dozen wacky friends, it’s everyone that’s ever been in your life. People you went to school with when you were six. Friends from first year of uni. People at that drama club you went to when you were 15.
Hell, look at Facebook. My friend count is currently in the 300’s somewhere, and I can easily bring to mind at least a few dozen more people not on that list that I’ve known in my life. Do I use it to chat with every one of those people? Of course not! I use it to chat with a solid core of maybe a dozen people regularly, post occasional messages and comment conversations with maybe twice that many, and the rest… well, some of them I wish happy birthday to once a year, but many are just there because I knew them for so long that I can’t bring myself to unfriend them. It might be awkward.
But this was part of the joy of taking the return holiday. I didn’t just meet up with friends that I’m still close with but also got to meet up and reconnect with some people that I haven’t seen in a long time.
And that’s important. Whether it be writing a sketch in a pub in New Quay, or right back in the middle of Lenton, I get to meet up with people that I haven’t chatted to in way too long. And I consider myself very lucky the way those meetings went. No awkwardness, no slow trickle of conversation. Just a meeting, a wide smile, a warm hug and then hours of conversation about everything under the sun and nothing of importance. We passed hours in those conversations, and although they may not have rocked the whole world, they certainly rocked my world. And always in a very specific, very special way that my world cannot be rocked by quite any other individual.
So I suppose lesson number 18 is this. Reconnect. Meet up with people you haven’t spoken to in yonks. Doesn’t have to be everyone, but if you’re in the right part of the world (in my case the right part of the world here translates to ‘on the same continent’), meet up with someone and remember the ol’ days. Or better yet, just chat about whatever random nonsense springs to mind.
Today’s lesson comes courtesy of a three-year old kid. I guess you really can learn from anyone.
I have a class of two three-year-old children at my job here, two kids which I’m going to call Whiny and Hyperactive. No I won’t, I’ll call them Albert and Costello. Batman and Robin. Spit, they’re called Arthur and Dragon.
Given that I have three pupils called Angel and two called Humphrey, all of the above are genuine possibilities for English names given to Chinese kids. But these kids, to give them their codes names, are Harry and Will.
Harry and Will are a long way from my favourite class, mainly because of their age (several of the centres up and down China don’t allow early-start classes anymore, but Ningbo still does). Teaching kids this young is a real challenge, and the class being at 8.30 on a Saturday doesn’t help!
But in a class recently I noticed something about one of the kids- codename Harry- that really struck me as interesting. One of the activities we do in this class is present kids with flashcards with words written on them and ask them to spell out the words (‘pram’, or ‘sit’, or whatever) and then combine the individual letters to make words. And every time I do this exercise with Harry and Will, I get the same response.
I pick up the cards, I fan them out, and present them to the kids. And every time, Harry will look me in the eye and say with a grin “Gei wo zui nan de!”. Will looks glumly at the table and says “Gei wo zui jiandan de”.
Translation: Harry says: “Give me the most difficult one”. Will says “Give me the easiest one”. Guess which of the two kids is better at reading?
The odd thing is, I don’t even do as they ask. I don’t give Harry the difficult ones and Will the easiest ones, because it’s important that they get the full range of cards and not just a small set. And it’s not like they can’t both do the difficult ones too- every time Will reads one of the harder ones, I clap and praise and say “I knew you could do it!” because he absolutely can. But there’s no doubting it- even though the cards they get are the same, Harry is quicker and more fluent.
Now I can’t say with any degree of certainty why this should be. Maybe there’s a cause, or maybe it’s correlation. Maybe because Harry is better, he feels more able to ask for difficult cards. But a little part of me can’t help but think that the one who asks for a challenge- for the most difficult words to read- is the better reader because his mindset is much more positive. He thinks he’s doing the difficult ones, so every time he succeeds, he gets to give himself a massive pat on the back. Will is stuck thinking he can only do the easy ones, and thinks that every card I give him is the easiest one, so in his head, he only ever achieves little victories.
This is all speculation- I’m no psychologist. But isn’t there a distinct possibility that there’s something in it? It’s not under debate that succeeding at difficult tasks gives our spirits a boost and makes us want to try more difficult tasks (that much I have read and understood- it’s called the Winners Effect, or something to that effect). And even if it’s only correlation and not causation for these particular kids, there is still something to be said for taking on a challenge.
So my lesson number 16 is this: accept a challenge every so often. Face up to a tough job. Ask for the most difficult option. We improve far more when challenged than when completing easy, routine tasks. So take a challenge, and hone your skills!
While posting my 50 lessons learnt at university, I devoted one post to how I had learnt Chinese. I suppose this is what you can call the sequel post, since everything gets sequels these days (does 300 really need one? Well, someone clearly thought so, look out for 300-Rise of an Empire this year! Yippee…). See, at university I learnt the basics of Chinese, just about enough to write an essay, provided I had a dictionary on-hand.
In the last four months however, I have done something else: I’ve become really good at Chinese. At uni I was well aware that I was not great. I stumbled through conversations in Chinese, and I’d always defer to someone else if they were speaking. Spit, I remember very well getting into taxis in Ningbo in my third year and dreading the moment when the taxi driver would ask “Ni shi na guo ren?” (for the benefit of my not-chinese-speaking readers, i.e. most of them, I’ll leave the Chinese in Pinyin, not characters), meaning “Where are you from?”. Not because I couldn’t answer the question, I could give the one-word answer to that, but because once I had successfully understood and answered one question, the taxi driver would inevitably assume that I was fluent, and therefore capable of holding an entire conversation. In reality, he’d let fly a string of Chinese while I sat there, nodding, sweating, panicking internally and occasionally rising to say “Duibuqi, wo tingbudong” (“sorry, I don’t understand”)
Now it’s a different story, and there are a few reasons. Partly it’s because of necessity. Like so many things I’ve learnt in recent years and months (see also the post about meeting new people), I learnt a skill because I had no choice. Although speaking Chinese is not essential to doing my job (there are others working for the same company that don’t speak it), it makes life a hell of a lot easier. And living long-term in China… well, I’d hate to try that without Chinese. Oh yeah, you’ll be able to buy your groceries, work out bus routes, might even be able to order a meal.
But there are times when you just can’t hack it without Chinese, the most common of which is caused by a tiny little invention that, while a saving grace to the world that I’d never give up (I tried to live without one of these once, and the experiment was a complete failure), also completely messes with your ability to communicate across the language barrier: The mobile phone.
Quick question folks- what do you do when speaking to someone and they don’t understand you? That’s right, you mime it. Oh, the things I’ve communicated through mime! (proudest achievement: “This book is overdue, here’s my money for the fine”) But wait- what can you not do over a phone call? You guessed it.
Everyone has a mobile, which means everyone is expected to be able to use one. So, when I locked myself out of the flat last month, I thought I could just find someone in an office, and ask them to let me in. I didn’t know the Chinese word for ‘key’, but I could always fall back on mime and gesture. Which left me in one hell of a pickle when I spotted the sign that said (in Chinese) “If you cannot open your door, call this number”. Ah. No mime for me, and the panic I felt at that stage was like being shot in the dictionary. It took a certain amount of explaining and garbling, but I did manage to make myself understood, and I got back in. And now I know the Chinese word for ‘key’.
Funny enough, the English lessons I’m giving really helped my Chinese too. When I teach the kids a new word (say for example, ship), I draw it on the board to help them understand. When they all chorus “chuan!” together, it’s a solid bet that that’s the Chinese word I need. Dictionary check after class to make sure the tiny rogues aren’t playing some elaborate prank on me, and voila! A new word has been added to my vocab. Over time, I’m learning pretty much every word my course teaches.
Living in China without any Chinese, or anyone immediately on hand to translate, is a nightmare. So for four months of living here, I had no option but to call on whatever language I had from university, scrape it together and practice, practice, practice. The net result being that I’m now pretty blasted good at it. Oh I’m no expert, I still make mistakes, and still flounder occasionally when there are words that I don’t know. But we’re now at the stage where those words are fewer and further between, where I understand the questions being asked of me first time, and where there isn’t a work colleague loitering behind my shoulder at all times because they know I’ll need a hand speaking to parents of the students.
So my 16th thing I’ve learnt in China is, well, how to speak Chinese, and to speak it well. And you know what, I get quite a kick out of it!
Something I noticed in a class not long ago is that my best lessons all have something in common: I’m not teaching them.
Confused? I sure was. In the same way that I have never done stand-up, or done public speaking, or even been in an Improv play, I generally don’t teach my best classes. What I mean by this is, I don’t stand at the front of the class and teach them as myself. Instead, I tend to give an exaggerated performance of myself.
Let me use stand-up as a parallel. When I did those gigs at Student Improv Nottingham’s comedy nights last year, I went on stage, sat down on a bar stool, with a bottle of beer, and told jokes (or rather, one very long joke) for ten minutes. And although the audience were watching me do the act, the version of me that appeared on stage was slightly different to the one that walks around in the daytime, went to lectures, made cakes, got his sleeve caught on doorknobs, and so on. There was a slightly slower, deeper voice, a bit more of a hunch to the shoulders, a tendency to lean forwards a bit.
The reason for this is that standing in front of a room full of people, and simply being yourself, is really really scary! It’s terrifying, because they can judge you, and form opinions. Creating a character, even if it’s a character very similar to your real self, is a nice way of offsetting that. Yes if the act wasn’t funny it reflects badly on me, but the portraying of a character helps to deflect that. When you watch Shakespeare, you don’t hate or love the actor, but the character he’s playing. It’s Romeo and Juliet that we feel bad for (this metaphor breaks down a bit here given how much I can’t stand that play), not the actors. So when doing stand-up, by playing a character, even one that is mostly very similar to myself, I can feel a little braver.
And in classes, it’s the same. Teacher Daniel (or, on rare occasion, Mr Daniel- I hate that name!) is not entirely the same as the Daniel you’ve probably sat in the pub and had a pint with at some point. His voice is a bit louder, he spreads his arms wide, and, if possible, laughs even louder. Given how quickly a teacher for such young children has to switch between stern and cheerful, he also comes across as slightly schizophrenic, but I don’t think the kids pick up on that.
So there’s this week’s lesson, for me to bear in mind in future classes. Maybe as a teacher, or stand-up, or public speaker, you are perfectly comfortable just being yourself. But me, I’ll go on with lesson number 15, and teach by giving an exaggerated performance of myself.
Also, if you got the reference in the title, congratulations. It’s an awful, silly, daft, terrible movie, but nostalgia is a wonderful thing!