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Attracting students’ attention through humour

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Live From Your Class: Everything I learned about teaching, I learned from working at Saturday Night Live Jamie Mason Cohen CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Live From Your Class: everything I learned about teaching, I learned from working at Saturday Night Live, by Jamie Mason Cohen is already a bestseller. The digital version was published on Amazon’s Kindle platform in January 2016 and debuted as #1 in education with a recent soft-cover launch and soon-to-be-released audio.

The book is designed for high school teachers looking for unconventional ideas to engage their students, and features strategies that teachers can use to increase student engagement and transform students’ lives through humour.

Humour is necessary to live a good life, Mason Cohen said.

“Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Maya Angelou, Abraham Lincoln, Audrey Hepburn and so many other leaders describe having a sense of humour as an armour for life’s difficulties and essential for survival. It’s in a teacher’s hands to take care of [the kids’] emotional, psychological and pedagogical well-being. When you’re laughing, you’re learning,” he said.

Live From Your Class is divided into three parts. The first two parts provide real-world anecdotes, strategies, tips, tactics and lesson ideas, some of which were inspired by Mason Cohen’s experiences working at Saturday Night Live. The third part of the book offers humour-infused, blank lesson plans, worksheets, videotaped classroom examples and links to simple, practical, project-based, experiential lessons for every classroom. There are 155 references and researched sources to support why and how humour impacts the brain, the mood and the quality of the learning environment.

“The book started out as a blog in which I wrote down a story that students, colleagues and friends had been intrigued with since I started teaching – how I got my job at Saturday Night Live. Teachers from around the world stumbled upon the blog post and emailed me about it. They wanted to know the rest of the story. The more I started writing, the more I realized that I was applying what I learned working on the periphery of the comedy world to my profession – teaching,” Mason Cohen said.

He finally decided to change direction to some degree.

“I wrote the book that I wanted to read, on a topic that I have been fascinated with, experimenting with, for a decade: how to get teenagers engaged in learning in every class through humour. I thought I had something unique to contribute by applying what I learned working in the world of television comedy to teaching, combined with 100 practical examples for every-day high school classrooms,” Mason Cohen said.

Toronto born and raised, Mason Cohen, 42, is a filmmaker and TV commercial director turned English teacher at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto who had worked for Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels in New York.

He said one of the lessons he learned at Saturday Night Live was to have chutzpah.

“I learned from having the chutzpah to put myself out there, take calculated risks, be bold and willing to make mistakes, that my life may take me down a unique and ultimately rewarding path, unexpected yet inevitable.”

He expands on this in a story in his book.

Jamie Mason Cohen
Jamie Mason Cohen

“This story was a microcosm of my life working for Saturday Night Live. I started out with a clear goal during this particular Saturday night show: my mission [was] to get Bono of U2 a shirt to wear on air of a famous political prisoner named Aung San Suu Kyi,” who is now free and one of the main political leaders in Burma.

“I failed to convince Bono to wear the shirt, though he thanked me for it when I introduced myself. I gained confidence and marvelled at the wonder of that surreal moment, found humour in how exciting little moments of life can be. I made a lifelong friend in the process, the Croatian musician Nenad Bach, and realized that sometimes, the journey is more significant than being blinded by the success of a final outcome.”

He said he realized that when you take a chance and set a goal, you may benefit in ways that might surprise you.

“This story impacted my teaching career because when I encourage students to take smart risks, seek out new experiences, take ‘the road not taken,’ to quote [poet] Robert Frost, and be bold in the path that they start out on, I am walking my talk and attending my own lectures, so to speak.”

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