Two weeks before the end of school I did something I no intention of doing. In fact, it was a 180-degree turn from what I set out to do.
It was a highly anticipated Saturday morning and my to-do list was impressively long. But when I noticed, yet again, that my inbox was getting clogged with too many good but unread emails, it bugged me. They all seemed to claim a rather close connection with unchecked items on my to-do list and I just wanted to get rid of them! Rather than merely deleting the host of unread emails as I had done only a few weeks before, I decided to take more decisive action and unsubscribe to these very good newsletters, ones I rarely got around to reading anyway.
The first one doomed to fall was the latest weekly IEW podcast. This comes from the institute that publishes the excellent writing curriculum we use as a school. After clicking the box I scrolled down seeking that elusive unsubscribe button. Suddenly my eyes caught the words “Continuing the Laughs.” Then more words jumped out at me, comments on how humor in the classroom enhances learning, contributes to a pleasant atmosphere, and lessens stress.
I have prayed for humor. I remember rather enviously observing a co-teacher friend using humor so effectively in the classroom. With humor she created an atmosphere in which students became more attentive simply because they did not want to miss the next funny thing she said. I have watched other teachers also use humor very well. But I am not naturally funny. So I have periodically prayed while inwardly wishing rather helplessly to be able to add humor’s intriguing influence in my classroom. What hope was there for me?
All these thoughts flitted through my head as I scrolled down a bit further. Then I read, “Do you think you’re not naturally funny? No sweat! Humor is a skill that can be studied and learned.” Really? My search for the unsubscribe button ceased, and I spent the next thirty minutes listening to Part 1 of this two-part podcast. The following day I listened to Part 2.
On Monday morning I nervously gave it a shot. I told one of Andrew Pudewa’s jokes—the first one was the “keep your worms warm” joke he had told on the podcast. The students did not laugh much, but groaned deeply thinking about the gross punch line. I told several more and then wondered what would become of my timid, amateur attempt at using a bit of (canned) humor in the classroom. Was there more to it than just getting them to laugh for a brief moment? Was this just a really off-the-wall idea? But in the next days, I began noticing how many spontaneous comments—both from the students and from me—connected to especially that first funny story. It became kind of an inside class joke. Several days later it became the basis for a (spontaneous) perfect hook when teaching a new concept in reading class. They latched onto it and understood perfectly what I meant! When our principal walked into the room during reading class the following day, they begged me to tell him our worm joke. Indeed, the joke was helping to create a pleasant atmosphere, one they wanted to share. One of the final days of school, a naturally timid student made me laugh delightedly by a casual remark she made referring to that class joke. Our final day snack fit with the joke. Over and over, I experienced with the students the kind of bonding that healthy humor—even canned humor—can create in the classroom.
That was only two weeks before the end of school, so I really have very little experience with this. But the little taste I got makes me think it is worth intentionally cultivating more humor in the classroom. I purchased a book called Anguished English recommended by Andrew Pudewa. I am laughing my way through it this summer, while carefully marking the parts that are appropriate to tell publicly. Unfortunately there are a fair number of off-color ones included. The podcast I referenced is here, along with a link to Part 2. Maybe you, too, will make a timid attempt and be surprised, like I was, by the benefits.
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CONTRIBUTOR: Betty Yoder