Thursday, August 29, 2013

Great Teacher Onizuka

Recently I randomly bumped into watching a show in Youtube called "Great Teacher Onizuka" or Just GTO for short (watching it in Japanese with English subtitles) and it's one of the more enjoyable and influential shows I've ever seen. It was great for learning Japanese, but really it didn't need to be helpful for learning the language to be enjoyable. It's just a really great show. It's got an all-encompassing theme of how to be a great teacher, good lead actor with various minor characters, has subplots and comedic moments, and things that relate to real-life events. Basically, each episode this former gangster-turned teacher Onizuka Sensei (Mr. Onizuka) helps out a student in his misbehaved 2-4 high school class and teaches real life lessons rather than the pure academia that is thrust on high schoolers in Japan (and probably many other countries, for that matter). It's like a nice blend of Karate Kid (Onizuka befriends his students) and Boston Public (show about teachers) in Japanese. Spoiler Alert: My favorite storyline was about a ditzy girl who was controlled by the "Mean Girls" faction of the class who talked to herself through a toy duck (perhaps a metaphor about being an ugly duckling but there were no Sparknotes to help me with the interpretation of certain themes) but then (at the urging of Onizuka Sensei) entered into a talent pageant where she discovered that she had to like herself more in order to respect herself, eventually going to a talent academy and appearing on TV, going onto bigger and better things. That's gotta be one of the best feelings of being a teacher/parent, when your prot g /child who you believe in and have invested a lot of time/effort/emotional energy actually achieves his her potential. Just great.

Basically the highlight of my day for about a week and a half. Couldn't wait to finish my work day to get home and watch it. 1.)TV shows back in the day (even, I guess in foreign mediums) have their deficiencies but also have their charms. Because they didn't worry about special effects, cinematography, and the latest gadgets of moviemaking/TV-making, they focused on things they could control, like, say .the plot???? Really I think that's something modern TV shows can work on, although I understand their motivations: TV shows have to get picked up by television programs and make it through their pilot, and the main factors in doing so are usually 1.) what the audience wants, 2.) what big-name actors/actresses can we get people to get excited about a show, and 3.) what wild and crazy things can we do to separate ourselves from every other TV show? Notice that plot isn't really in there; TV shows just aren't made to tell a good story anymore, IMO (with rare exceptions of Breaking Bad, etc.) 2.)When was the last great TV show about teachers? Glee? I don't think that counts. Boston Public?Didn't really watch that show. Veronica Mars? I guess the American audience is tired of real life and is in a very fantasy-driven, vampires-dragons-zombies-magical powers stretch (See popular shows True Blood, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, and commercial success of Harry Potter, Hunger Games type movies) 3.)I've always considered becoming a teacher, and this show really gave me insight into whether I should pursue that in the future or not. Obviously very dramatized, and didn't really depict the day-to-day grind of what a teacher is like (in fact, Onizuka Sensei is often skipping class and doing things OTHER than teaching) but the effect on student's lives and perception of adults rings true throughout the series and emphasizes the value of teaching, especially the value of a good teacher who can relate to his students. 4.)I perceived this too when I was in high school, and now that my sister is in high school I'm reminded sometimes of this fact, but it's tough to be a high schooler. People in high school are mean. The high school hierarchy is dominated by young adults who have the desire to become adults and do adult things but do not have the social ability to cope with all situations and haven't developed the maturity to know what is right or wrong. Also, one's self identity is often overly proportionate to how one fits into the social setting, where one or two bullies/"cool kids" have way too much control over others' lives (whereas adults can just shrug it off and ignore people who they don't like being around, high schoolers have to be in the same setting and attend the same classes and be around the same people all the time, as if it was a prison). Some kids are just downright mean, not necessarily because they are awful people but because that is the accepted way to deal with other people, or they are asserting social power without cognizance of its effect on others. Possibly the most difficult time in one's life, and it's really helpful if there is someone older who has gone through that (like Onizuka in the TV series) who can give helpful advice without inserting their own desires/ambitions for the child (like parents). 5.)For those learning Japanese, this series was a great way to hone listening skills, especially casual conversation going at the normal rate of conversation for most Japanese. It is pretty fast, and I had to rewind several areas to get a good read on the exact words they were using, and even then I sometimes only picked up a few key words in a sentence, but it was definitely helpful, especially confirming that the colloquial terms and one-word phrases that one learns in textbooks actually are used by Japanese speakers (at least they did in 1998, when this TV series was one of the most-watched TV series in all of Japan). Also, it gave me a great lesson that I have to learn the conjugations of verbs, where I had skipped a lot of the tenses and conjugations of the verbs because I was lazy and felt like I could do it later, listening confirmed that you have to have knowledge of these tenses or else you don't understand what people are saying, or what they are referring to. It's just like English, French, Spanish, all these romance languages (but not Chinese, where it's not especially important): there's a reason all these language schools teach the conjugations and drill them home.

Anyway, happy viewing!

Fantasize on,

Robert Yan
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