Laughter: A Requirement In The Classroom

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The other day I was rushing to the copier in hopes of beating the bell before students arrived.

“Don’t ever smile,” is what I overheard a colleague share with a student teacher as I raced by. “You’ve got to be serious all of the time.”

I nearly snapped my neck wondering who would give that kind of advice.

Really?

I’ve heard other bits of sage advice about being personable in the classroom as I’m sure you have as well.

Don’t smile before Thanksgiving or your class will become unruly. You’ll never get control of your class after you share a joke. It will be chaos, you’ll see.

If you’ve ever taught or are about to, how to act in front of your classroom has definitely been part of the conversation. Whether in the classroom as a student yourself or in the teacher lounge, antics from the front of the room are often debated. Too nice, too mean, too strict, too casual. What’s the best approach?

To be frank, this last week has been draining. Perhaps it’s me or my students or both of us. We’re tired of prepping for the state assessments coming up in about two months and we obviously have a while to go yet. So I’ve had to force the funny and they’ve had to reel in their zany demeanor at times.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sure it’s more work to rein them in at times – I just love the genuine third grade smiles and laughter. Their enthusiasm is impressive as well. Their jokes brighten my day as much as I hope mine do in their lives.

Can they control themselves? You bet they can.

Can they transition back to seriousness as we return to the lesson? Definitely.

I admit that sometimes the funny doesn’t work. However I don’t think you stop trying. The power of the funny is too important.

Funny breaks the ice that first day of school. It allows us to laugh at ourselves when we mess up. It reiterates that we’re not robots.

Funny puts people at ease.

One can also convey seriousness when the funny isn’t used. When a serious subject or topic is needed, the absence of laughter is definitely noticed.

Funny is an approach useful in motivating when students just don’t want to do the work anymore.

Going after the funny helps your students realize that you’re human, after all. Being human is good.

I suppose every teacher has his or her standards.  Not laughing, smiling, or enjoying myself at the front of the classroom just isn’t on my to-do list.

Remember the class you had when your teacher just seemed to be there without any emotion whatsoever?

You and I are not alone with those memories. That teacher no doubt served as inspiration in a film you’ve undoubtedly seen.

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

That guy has made a name for himself with his monotone delivery. Not only do I not want to have to sit in his class and hear him drone on and on. I don’t want to be that kind of teacher either.

I’ll take my lead from Dr. Pappas as I briefly mentioned in Classroom Truths & Hints. He held us spellbound with antics that startled and amused us into never missing a class regardless of his no attendance policy. He had us when he walked into class mimicking bird calls.

Here are a few of my attempts at funny.

  • Birthday hats made upon request. All you need is some construction paper, a pair of scissors and a stapler. A simple endeavor in which the crazier the hat is made the better. No two are alike because it’s just impossible to do that kind of zaniness twice. Students love it and more than one has told me how they’ve kept theirs for years afterward.
  • Nicknaming students. Obviously take some time to get to know your students to better anticipate whether they will take offense if you suddenly call them Bubba or Bubbette. Sometimes nicknames even find their way home or heard on the playground. That’s when you know that Frozone was the perfect name for the student that calculated his math problems with icy precision.
  • I try to include stories in the middle of my lesson. It not only offers a mental break, but it encourages another opportunity for students to get to know me better – building relationships = better learning.
  • I throw in accents occasionally to be a head turner.  They not only awaken the student at the back of the room who has ventured to the beach by the look in his eyes, but they result in all students listening a bit closer to what you’re saying. You can actually see them lean forward listening intently.
  • Cheese and Crackers. I’ve long since forgotten how this title emerged. The premise is a student volunteers to come to the front of the room and sit on the stool. We get to ask him or her questions about favorite dessert or vacation. I start it off with a few and then students raise their hands to be called on by the student. It’s a combination of laughter and sincerity as we learn more about each student. After a few questions, it is quickly apparent what little we know of our students even though they sit in our classroom day in and day out.

School doesn’t need to feel like school.

Yes, students’ jobs are to learn, but they didn’t sign up for this job did they? It’s not as if they stood in line for an application hoping to get the position of student.

School is hard enough without making it an experience that they will enjoy. Sometimes it’s the engaging lesson, and sometimes it’s starting the day with a smile.

Add in a quick story about something funny that happened on the way to school that morning and your students are already engaged.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about being funny at the front of the classroom.

Do you agree that adding humor is acceptable, if not crucial?

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