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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bryan Bowden, a substitute teacher who uses comedy as a learning tool

Posted By on 06.02.11 at 11:30 AM

Five years ago, I got my master's in elementary education. I was doing comedy at the time, but I thought, "Let's do something more stable, like teaching. They'll always need teachers, right?" I taught full-time for a year and a half. I was in a room with 38 eighth graders on the west side. In the classroom I had, seven kids had their fathers shot to death. It was really hard to be like, "Hey, math is important!"

click to enlarge JOHNNY KNIGHT

Now I've been subbing for three years. This year I've been lucky; there's one elementary school that keeps calling me over and over again. They usually call me between six and seven in the morning to find out if I can sub. I go to the office, and they tell me what classroom I'm in and give me the lesson plans. I look those over and try to get everything figured out real fast.

The easiest way to establish control is to make a seating chart so I magically know everyone's name. It's much better to say, "Michael, stop doing that!" than "You in the brown shirt, stop doing that!" Because if you call their name, they have to look at you. I'm a big-looking dude, so that helps.

Generally, I try not to care what they think of me. The ones who want to have a power struggle hate me, because I'll get them in trouble. Other students think I'm great because after they do their work, I let them draw at their desk. They feel like they're getting away with something. I'm totally cool with that.

I had a student who cursed at me and ran out of the room. I don't know what he told his mom, but she was really mad at me. I'm in the hallway, and I hear this mom yelling, "Where that teacher at?" She saw me and said, "He don't look like he could teach! He look gay!" Some other teachers blocked her from getting to me and talked her down and got her son to admit he had lied to her, and then she was my best friend. That all happened in the course of, like, 20 minutes.

One time I was reading a story to kindergartners sitting on a carpet. I hear this weird noise, and it turns out this kid is lying down and this girl is slapping him on the butt. I'm trying not to laugh. I had to be like, "Hey, guys, now is not the time for that," as if there were a time for that. "It's not butt-smacking time. We have to do that later."

I also teach high school kids stand-up comedy and improv at Second City. Stand-up comedy is a socially acceptable form of aggression. You can get on stage and say what's bothering you, what's making you angry. When teenagers do that at school or with their parents, people say, "You can't talk like that." But when they're on stage, the audience is like, "That's hilarious."

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