Running With Class – GM as Teacher

In my first Running With Class article, I talked about the role of the GM as a Lesson Planner. That portion of GMing revolves around getting ready for each campaign, and campaign session. But what happens when you are actually running the session? This is where the role of GM as Teacher comes in.

I’m Not the Mouth of God

If you ask someone what it means to be a teacher, you’re going to get a wide variety of answers. Some people, especially those who have had the misfortune to sit through a bad college lecture, will tell you that the teacher is the person who delivers information to the students. The teacher is the final arbiter of knowledge in the classroom, and that knowledge flows from the teacher to the student, filling up their little brains.

If I may, that idea is pure and utter crap.

As a teacher, yes, I have more content knowledge (presumably) than my students. However, it is not my job to just stand at the front of the room and deliver that knowledge to them via lecture or notes. Those thing have their place, but they are just tools. They shouldn’t be the only way by which students learn. Because, let’s face it, lots of students don’t learn well that way. Some have to talk things out, some work better visually, and some need to get their hands on something to understand it.

Not leaning on lecture is something that I’m working on, both as a teacher, and a GM. You see, I’m a talker. Given half a chance, I’ll hold forth on a wide variety of subjects, and I tend to think that I do a pretty good job of getting my point across. I subscribe to a method of teaching that’s called Constructivism, and one of the key concepts in that philosophy is Scaffolding. That is, I front-load good, solid information, then let the students work with it, helping them along the way, then front-loading again when a new level of understanding is reached.

That’s all well and good, but I tend to spend way too much time front-loading. Just ask anyone that I’ve run a playtest game for. I talk. A lot. So I’m trying to work on that. Sometimes just jumping into the action is the way to do things. You’ve got to know your group/students. You’ve got to work to figure out how best they learn, and how they digest information. Do you have someone who’ll sit down and read the whole rulebook, and grok it right away? Do you have someone that needs to roll the dice first to have any idea of what’s going on? Do you have someone who builds from mechanics to character? What about in the other direction? There are all things that you need to know if you’re going to be an effective GM.

Letting Go and Seeing What Happens

I’ve not had a lot of time to be a classroom teacher yet. However, I’ve had moments where I get a glimpse of what I hope it will be like. Those times have come while I was GMing. My favorite moments during a game session are the ones where I’m not saying anything at all. Where I am sitting back and watching the players interact with one another in character. It’s in those moments that I love it. I want that same feeling in a classroom. There’s the sense in those moments that the players just “get it.” That they’ve been given the tools they need to succeed at their task of playing a character. And, in those moments, they learn so much more about the game system, about the world, about the other characters, and themselves than I could ever deliver to them by droning on.

I want those same moments in a classroom. I’ve seen them a few times. When I was teaching a lesson during an observation, I saw it. I used the game Mafia (also know as Are You a Werewolf) to illustrate the kinds of persecution that were seen during the Salem Witch Trials as part of the class’s lesson on The Crucible. We played a few games, and afterward, I asked them to draw parallels between their experiences and the experiences of the characters in the play. They got it immediately, and I sat back and watched them discuss the implications in small groups. It was very satisfying.

GM as Teacher

If that phrase makes you think of a lecturer who doesn’t listen, then I humbly submit that you’ve had a lot of bad teachers in your life. A teacher is someone who has the skill to collaborate with their students to facilitate the learning process. A teacher takes the time to understand the needs of their students, and figures out the ways in which their students best learn. And a teacher lets their students work with the knowledge they have, stepping in to guide and nudge. Not to be an autocratic, authoritarian dictator.

And if that last sentence describes your GM, or heaven forefend, you, then I humbly submit that you need to reexamine the manner in which you run games. No teacher should be like that, and neither should any GM.

I’m Tracy Barnett, and This is My Game


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.


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About TheOtherTracy

Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.
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