The Next Chapter

How teaching high school prepared Paul Bae for a life of comedy

The comedian and podcaster spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing You Suck, Sir, a humorous memoir about his time spent teaching high school.
Paul Bae is a comedian, educator and podcaster. (Arsenal Pulp Press, Karolina Turek)

Paul Bae is a comedian, writer, actor and podcaster from British Columbia.

He is also a former educator who taught in the Vancouver high school system. He recalls that time — along with the best and sometimes oddest classroom dialogues — in his memoir You Suck, Sir.

Bae spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing You Suck, Sir

Things students say

"One of my professors, during my student teaching practicum, told us to keep a journal of our experiences. She said it'll become invaluable later on to chart our growth. Her big thing was that all great teachers are great learners. 

"I took that seriously. I started a journal. I was journaling anyway, but up to that moment it had just been road maps to private fishing spots I'd discover around B.C. I thought, 'I've got other pages to fill, so might as well keep a teaching journal!' 

I wanted to be a teacher and was there to be their teacher, not their friend.

"Student teachers are told not to assign homework on Fridays if you want them to like you. But I didn't care if they liked me or not. I wanted to be a teacher and was there to be their teacher, not their friend. So I assigned homework, and as I walked away, I heard a kid mumbling under his breath, 'You suck.' I turned around on my heels and I said, 'Excuse me?'  He said, 'Oh sorry, you suck, Sir.'

"I kept a stone face. But I quickly turned around and wrote it down in my journal because I knew that was hilarious."

'Did you hear the one about…'

"It was my mother who first told me to try stand-up comedy before I went into teaching. But in my fifth year of teaching, one of my students challenged me to try comedy. I did it behind their backs at night, but I didn't tell them I was doing this. I would reveal it later.

It was my mother who first told me to try stand-up comedy before I went into teaching.

"Without them knowing, I would try jokes on them and they didn't know it was actual written [comedy] bits. More often than not, they'd roll their eyes and I'd think to myself, 'OK, don't do that on stage.' They became an actual test audience for my evening comedy sets. 

"Teenagers are a tough crowd. I've played drunks. I've played all types of crowds. Classrooms in the morning are the toughest crowd I've ever played."

Teaching and learning all around 

"What I've learned, over 12 years of teaching, is that everyone learns differently. There is no one way. As public school teachers, what we try to do is just teach down the middle — get as many as possible — and then those who fall through the cracks you hope come to you after school or in between classes.

There's no one way to learn and there's no one way to teach. Which makes it very difficult in this system.

"I found some kids do better after school, some do better in the mid-afternoon or evenings. There's no one way to learn and there's no one way to teach. Which makes it very difficult in this system.

"I thought I was there to be their teacher, not their friend. But as I grew older in teaching, I realized what I thought of as teaching is too narrow for a lot of these people, especially the young men. Everyone has their role. I'm the one that was made to go in to help young men who don't have a strong father figure in their life. I found those are the ones I related to the most or who related to me. 

"There were other teachers who related to the young women, if everyone does their job correctly we each become a role model for somebody that needs it. 

Paul Bae's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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