Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Do You Get When You Mix a Sumo With a Strudel?

I called Candy. She was the lower school principal at AIS in Vienna who said ... "if you ever want a permanent position, call me." I needed a position ... any position. I guess I could have gone back to the states but I wanted to stay around Western Europe a little longer.

Candy lined up a job for me.

A week earlier, one of the high school history teachers was in a tragic automobile accident. There was suddenly a need for a substitute to teach her classes for the remaining school year. There was only one catch: the substitute had to teach Japanese history.

" Can you teach Japanese history?" the head of the history department asked me.
" Of course." I said without hesitation.
" Have you ever taught it?"
" Um ... no ... but I have a good knowlege base of ... what did you say it was again?"
" Japanese history."
" Yeah ... THAT."
" Okay ... it's yours."

He was obviously desperate. I didn't have a clue about Japanese history.  I figured ... nobody else did ... so maybe I could fake it. There was no internet back then ... so I had to look for everything I physically could get my hands on. Fortunately ... all the big embassies were in Vienna. Japan had a wonderful one and generously gave me pamphlets and literature on everything Japanese: the government, Sumo wrestling, cooking, art, royalty, geishas, paper making ... It was a gold mine.

Then came my REALLY BIG idea.

On my first day of class I introduced myself. We spent some time remembering their former teacher and sharing stories. I told them that I would try to continue teaching the course the best that I could but would never replace their beloved teacher.

I then passed out the embassy pamphlets to all the students. I wrote names on the board next to the corresponding pamphlet that ended up in their hands. Then ... I put random dates next to each name and gave them their instructions. Each student was to study the information they had and give a presentation to the class on the date that they were assigned. We'd all take notes (me included) on every presentation and at the end of the year I would give them a final exam on Japanese Culture and History based on their presentations.

It worked ... I learned alot that semester.

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