A Sense of Humor
A teacher of 7th graders wanted to illustrate the importance of sequencing and asked her students to direct her in the steps of making a peanut butter sandwich. She laid out the tools and supplies she needed and waited for the first instruction. Someone said, “Take out the bread.” She picked up the loaf of bread, walked to the open window on the 2nd floor, and tossed it out! A teacher walking by the window picked it up and returned it to the classroom with a questioning look. Of course, when they saw the teacher was Ms. Egan, all became clear.
My hero, mentor, and the actor of the bread scenario, Emalie Egan is known for outrageous antics. We’ve teamed together in teaching, writing, presenting, and creating units of instruction as well as some creative counseling of students. Together we’ve done some silly and crazy things.
Emalie is fearless in the classroom to try most anything. She is never afraid to appear in ridiculous costumes or to pull a bluff on students. One time we needed to promote attendance for the next Tennessee Middle School Conference; she was Boris, and I was Natasha (from Rocky and Bull Winkle if you’re too young to know). Very early on in this partnership we learned I’m a far better “straight man” than the one who gives the punch line.
The pendulum of educational trends is heavy these days on the side of “science”. If we try to have balance in our teaching and our lives, we must remember that teaching is both an art and a science. Today’s current emphasis on test scores and teacher evaluation creates tension, stress, and a tendency to forget the joy of teaching.
A sense of humor is critical for teachers in this time. One writer calls humor “spice”, that extra ingredient that wakes you up, makes you more aware. A teacher needs actually two kinds of humor – for herself and for the classroom.
Teachers need to find joy wherever they can these days. Many days after school I would gather with a group of teachers to share the funny stories of the day. I typically avoided groups of BMWs (b—-, moaners, and whiners). I needed the lift at the end of the day, not the depressing or whining.
Another source of this humor is in the cartoon Zits. If you teach teenagers, you’ll love his humor. Kids don’t always appreciate it, but it just rings true to me in nearly every comic. I’ve used some of the strips when teaching communication. You can find books full of just the Zits comic strips.
A source I’ve used many times is The Laughing Classroom by Loomans and Kolberg. Perhaps you are thinking that you are NOT an entertainer, you are a teacher. You may have even said to others or yourself that the whole idea of being playful and making learning joyful is the problem with education today. Do you believe this? Students are used to being entertained, and we can’t compete with the technology available to them today.
This book may give you a different perspective on the idea of humor. The authors identify four types of humor:
- Joy Master: inspiring, warmhearted, innocent, healing, high-level play
- Fun Meister: slapstick, clowning, naïve, imitative, entertaining
- Joke Maker: wordplay, stories, parody, instructive, insightful
- Life Mocker: cynical, sarcastic, exclusive, coldhearted, worldly, dehumanizing
You can take a quiz if you need one to figure out where your humor fits, but you can probably recognize yourself with these descriptions. I think you need different humor styles for the age level you teach. Middle school students are not easy on a teacher’s humor – they are a tough audience. I usually tried puns, irony, or exaggeration because it came more naturally to me than clowning or slapstick. As you read this book you realize that a sense of humor can essentially be about play.
Our daughter, Jennifer, had an English teacher in her junior year in high school who used such creative activities with her classes. One day Jennifer came home and said they played freeze tag. To be released from their frozen position they had to give a quote from Shakespeare. Another day they colored pictures from the Berenstein Bears stories. Getting high school juniors to take themselves less seriously is no easy task, but I would suspect this teacher was probably successful.
This Habit of Balance is about finding that place in your own life where you have doses of humor, joy, and the essential ingredients needed to take care of yourself. Have you laughed today? Have you had fun?
If your days consistently end with a feeling of frustration, hopelessness, discouragement, or even anger, it’s time to change something. Change what you can for YOU. Look at activities that delight you – and make them happen. Consider it therapy. Make a list of some things that will make you feel better. We used to call our standing in the hall “Professional Development”.
Burn out is a real condition; examine the patient – yourself. Emalie sent me this email recently that she sent to some faculties she coaches. Good stuff!
How do you remain remain positive and energized when faced with constant pressures and piles of paperwork? How do you start 2013 with vigor and enthusiasm?
Over the next few days, I’ll be mailing you tips and ideas on How To Stay Motivated In Teaching. Most of these ideas come from best selling author and award winning teacher Marjan Glavac.
Here’s the first in the series of tips from Marjan…
How to avoid Burnout
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and burned out, put in long hours without seeming to get ahead, becoming irritable with your students, then there are things that you need to do to take care of yourself. Here are a few suggestions…
Enroll in a fun workshop, seminar or conference or personal, non-teaching interest.
· Change teaching grade assignments in the school.
· Change schools.
· Go into a different teaching role such as resource,
· Take on a new task such as a school or district committee.
· Take up swimming, jogging, walking, rowing, cycling.
· Get more sleep.
· Use deep breathing, meditation techniques, music to relax.
· Cultivate allies among students, staff, and parents.
· Find friends outside of teaching.
· Go to out-of-town conferences.
· Collect and mount motivational posters in your classroom.
· Take a vacation, a week-end getaway, or go to a spa retreat.
· Be flexible, or you’ll be permanently bent out of shape.
· Join a sports league or a charitable volunteer group.
· Get a pet (rabbit, cat, dog…).
For me, one of the first things I do to relax after having a hard week with my students is to get some inspiration from other teachers through teacher movies.
The Emperor’s Club (2002)
I rarely buy movies after I’ve viewed them.
This movie is the exception.
The Emperor’s Club with Kevin Kline is one of my favourite teacher movies. It showed me that although I can try my best, do all I can for my students, I can’t “fix” them all. There will be failures, especially with students whom I tried to reach, but for whom I was unable to change their behavior. There will be students you can’t stop for whatever reason, from going down the wrong path.
The Emperor’s Club more than any other movie, shows the internal struggles of the classroom teacher.
This movie also shows that for every student you can’t change, there will be a number of students where you will make a difference.
Those you will inspire to do their best through all the little things you do with them all year long.
Even though they don’t tell you or acknowledge the impact you have on them, in later years, they will remember and be grateful for the things you did.
I’ve listed some resources that might help you if you are looking for ways to incorporate humor into your classroom.
- Humor Classroom Handbook
- Using Humor in the Classroom:Laughter has the power to fuel engagement and help students learn
- Best Practices: Humor in the Classroom subject specific suggestions
- Brain-Friendly Humor in the Classroom great list of resources on the web
Are you counting joys? Trust me, it will make a difference. Look for these blessings:
- students who appreciate your humor
- those light-hearted moments in the day
- the joy of laughter
- a moment of laughter to break the tension
- the ability to laugh at yourself
- friends in teaching who support each other through laughter and funny stories