The drama of teaching, all the way to the final curtain

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The drama of teaching, all the way to the final curtain

I'm teaching the emotions to my class of high schoolers: feelings such as happy, sad, confused, anxious, embarrassed. After introducing each word, I show what the word means. I smile real big and dance a jig for happy, then contort my face and make puppy eyes for sad. Then it's the students' turn.

I voice an emotion, and the students have to quickly show me what it is. It's all fun and games, until I'm "afraid," and Byun-chul, a shy boy, runs out the door in a panic. The emotion was "afraid," and I tell my stunned class that Byun-chul was actually right on the mark.

In college, I trained in theater, and this has caused me to view my job teaching English at Sukji High School in Suwon in a completely different light. Every day in the classroom I'm an actor, pulling out all the theatrical stops.

I majored in political science and drama at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, then studied at the British American Drama Academy in London. I've trained in both American and British method acting, and in voice, movement and breathing techniques. All of these things come back to me when I teach.

To be an effective actor, you've got captivate your audience. Likewise, to be an effective teacher, you need to captivate your students. I treat every class as a 50-minute performance of a dramatic story, designing every lesson with a plot that will keep the students' attention. Because I teach four classes a day, that works out to a 20-show run every week. It's a one-man show, and completely self-written and self-directed. Audience participation is encouraged, of course.

One week I decided to teach the future tense. I got an idea, and set the scene with a scarf, a shawl and some candles. Before my first class came in, I wrapped the scarf around my head, draped myself in the shawl, turned off the lights and lit the candles. I had transformed myself into a psychic, the Great Paulini. The students trickled in, befuddled. Once they were in their seats I explained the rules of the Great Paulini: Based on the roll of my magic die, they would have to formulate a question for the Great Paulini.

The Great Paulini would tell them their future if they asked the question correctly in the future tense. After a few rounds with the headwrap, I let the students play the psychic. They really had fun with it. One girl asked if she would get married to the handsome actor Kim Jae-won. The psychic, another girl, closed her eyes, breathed deeply, then said, "Are you crazy? No way!"

Studying theater taught me about people, emotions and communication, as well as teaching. I believe it's an inseparable part of life, and maybe it's my future. What I really want to do is Hamlet. You know, with the skull, and Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest. Who knows, maybe for a Halloween lesson.


by Paul J. Kim
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