Monday, September 29, 2014

How Being a Game Master Helped me Prepare for Student Teaching

Post by William Payne: William is a senior at Augustana College and is currently doing his student teaching in math at Bettendorf High School under the guidance of Joe Buck @josfbuck 

Wait, what?

Hello everyone! If I haven’t met you yet, I’m William Payne and I’m student teaching in the math department under the skillful watch of Team Lead Mr. Joe Buck. I’m a senior mathematics and mathematics education major at Augustana College. Feel free to stop by, pop your head in, and stay for some math!

When I was approached by Mr. Casas about doing a blog post from the perspective of a student teacher, I was excited but also completely unsure of what to say. I could talk about how awesome everyone has been- faculty, staff, and students alike. I could say something about how impressed I have been with the quality of the Mathematics program here at Bettendorf. And although every word of that is true, I figure it has been said before. Old hat, if you will.

So, instead, I've decided to share a revelation I had while reflecting on my student teaching experience at Bettendorf. That being a teacher is remarkably similar to being a Game Master.

For those of you not among the Dungeons and Dragons, tabletop role-playing game, nerd-folk, I want to do a quick explanation.  Dungeons and Dragons is a magical time (pun intended), where a bunch of people get together to become someone else for a night. Pick a type of character you might want to play. You might choose to play a melee fighter, for example. Or some kind of cunning rogue. Maybe a wizard. Or something in between one of those. Then, using a variety of specialized dice, you roll stats to determine how strong you are. Finally, you decide how you want your character to act- hero, villain, or somewhere in between. It’s all up you. Then, you play that character out. However, as Billy Shakes once said, “all the world’s a stage,” and your awesome character has no stage on which to act. That’s where the game master comes in.

The game master creates the world the players inhabit. They create other characters, places, languages, and religions with which the players will interact and, well, live, really. I learned to play Dungeons and Dragons my freshman year of college. But it wasn't until my junior year that I began to learn how to be a game master.

And these past few weeks of student teaching, I've been really grateful that I learned this skill. Teaching and being a game master require many of the same skills.

First off, they require that person doing them can act. Teachers, at their core, are also actors, I feel. They need to stand up for an audience and perform. They need to put themselves in a variety of different hats and positions to fully be successful.

Second, they both require a great deal of creativity. If a teacher gets bogged down, reciting their lessons from the book all the time, the students will get bored, and rightfully so.  If a Game Master doesn’t find ways of making the game fresh, then the players will enjoy the game that much less.
Both classes and specific game campaigns tend to develop personalities of their own. You develop jokes and ways of thinking that other people wouldn’t always understand. When you can see a gaming friend coming towards you and you can make that friend hit the floor laughing just by yelling “A IS FOR AXE!!,” you know something wonderful has happened. This paradigm exists, too, in the world of the classroom.

Also, both teaching and being a Game Master requires a good amount of flexibility and ability to improvise. In both cases, the teacher or the Game Master has no idea how their audience will react. As any good teacher will tell you, sometimes a lesson goes pretty flawlessly. But most of the time, the lesson goes off somewhere, and the teacher has to do something he or she wasn't expected. Players, too, also have a good amount of unreliability. Sometimes, you have a great story all planned out. But one cannot control player behavior, and sometimes the party might just kill the most integral part of the story. A good Game Master adapts.

So, students, if you are looking for a really fun time, but also want to experience some of the responsibilities of a teacher, I recommend getting together with some good friends and learning to play one of the various editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Or Pathfinder. Or any other tabletop role playing game, for that matter. And teachers, if you want to practice your teaching skills, while getting away from the classroom, I have the same recommendation.

After all, what could be better than laughter, gaming, and friendship?

Game on, Bettendorf High School.

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