A Trained Poodle is Entertaining, but Not Educational

My dear wife and I spent the 2004 -2005 academic year teaching English in China. Why she was willing to do this is a mystery to me, considering just how attractive I find Oriental women.

How attractive? Let’s just say that us being married is a borderline miracle, due to a lucky confluence of events which occurred several years before we even met.

I graduated Engineering School at the height (in the depths?) of the Bob Rae recession, i.e. class of ’92. I spent months looking for anything in Engineering, to no avail. Things were so bad that even the contracts for working the oilfields were hard to find, and they were looking for experience. Like 2 – 5 years. New graduates need not apply.

One time, at the university job centre, I found a listing for teaching English in Japan. Given that I couldn’t find anything else, and given that the qualifications were native “English speaker with a degree,” and given that I’d be living surrounded by, you know, Oriental women, I picked up an application.

My head filled with notions of either (a) marrying a Japanese woman or, (b) fucking myself to death in the fleshpots of East Asia, I filled out the bloody thing out, put it in the envelope, and was looking up postage costs to Tokyo, when a production Engineering job came my way. Foolishly believing that I should pursue my engineering career instead of hot Asian women, I took it.

The road from there to meeting my lovely bride was long an winding, but I traversed it. Without that recession, without me starting Engineering school 2 years later than normal, without me getting that crappy job through a family connection I wouldn’t have been around to meet her. Hell, if that job had come through even 4 weeks later, I’d have already been off to Japan.

Anyway, all those evens lined up, and eventually we embarked on our China adventure, in spite of my having told her I thought Lucy Liu to be the hottest woman in Hollywood.

Yes, I know that by Chinese standards, Lucy Liu isn’t actually all that attractive. Her eyes are too narrow and too tilted. Plus, she has freckles. Doesn’t matter. To me she made her costars in Charlie’s Angels look like complete mutts.

Yet Mrs. StandUpRight still wanted to go to China with me. Go figure. I don’t think she believed me when I told her I thought that whoever the hot Aussie red head of the day (can’t remember her name, was married to Tom Cruise, I think) looked like she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

You want hot? Check out the love interest in Karate Kid 2. My god that girl was achingly beautiful. Hell, even the old lady who played Miyagi’s love interest was fine.

But I digress. Off to China.

When we were there, one of the key things we learned was that we really weren’t teachers. We were trained poodles, barking and dancing for our classes.

You see, the main thing we were in those classes to do was to provide the students experience with natural English. We didn’t teach vocabulary, or grammar, or anything structural about the language, the Chinese didn’t want us for that. Instead, we taught reading skills and conversation.

That is to say, most of what we were there for was so the students (and we were teaching English Teaching students, i.e. future English teachers) could hear, and converse with someone using natural English. We were performers, not teachers.

Now, this didn’t bother me in the least. I’d already spent 5 years teaching Engineers how to use their CAD software, and 8 years before that teaching karate. I had plenty of experience learning that teaching is far more about entertaining than it is instruction.

Don’t believe me? Think about teachers who really got through to you, who really taught you your stuff. Were their classes jam packed with knowledge transfer, or were they enjoyable?

In first year I had a Chemistry prof who (a) won a Nobel Prize, (b) was funny and entertaining as hell (c) taught less than half the material you needed to know for the exams and (d) regularly won teaching prizes.

How do you square (c) with (d)? If you use (c) as the standard of good teaching, Dr. (I Can’t Remember His Name, it Was 34 Years Ago, For Fuck’s Sake) would be considered a terrible teacher; he only covered 1/2 the course material in his lectures. But by the standard of (b) he won teaching awards.

I mean, here we are 34 years later and, while I can’t even remember his name, I can still remember his classes.

If you want to teach someone, if you want to reach someone, you have to be entertaining. You have to be that trained poodle, dancing for your students’ entertainment. Entertainment first, education second.

It is a hard learned lesson.

Also at that University in China were highly experienced men, experts in their fields, with so much they wished to impart to their students. Men with no teaching experience, who couldn’t understand why the “popular” teachers, who hosted movie nights for their students, got better student evaluations than they did.

They never learned, or wouldn’t learn, entertainment first, education second.

The students knew we were trained poodles. A gimmick the university used to raise its profile, “We have (x-number of) foreign born teachers on staff.”

We are in the Tik Tok/Twitter era of cultural and educational devolution. No one under the age of 40 has the attention span, or desire, to sit through long, educational training courses anymore. No one has the desire to read through thousand word blog posts anymore.

We want it in 250 characters.

We want it in 2 minutes.

The problem is, if it’s worth teaching, if it’s worth learning, it requires more than 1000 words, or a 2 minute video. If you want to maintain this generation’s attention past that 2 minute mark, then, you have no choice.

Entertainment first, education second.