Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods.—Japanese proverb
During a recent bout of spring cleaning, I was pulling out a plethora of long forgotten objects from my night table drawer—extra buttons, lip balm, cough drops, a variety of skin lotions, and such—when at the very bottom I came upon this long-forgotten thank-you letter from a former middle-school student.
There are many things that thrilled me about this letter—the most notable being that the student claims I helped her become a better reader and writer, which is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing as an English teacher. But it was the following two lines that made me feel immensely satisfied and happy, “I think you are a really great teacher because you make learning fun. You are hilarious also.” There is no better praise or evaluation than from a student at the end of an academic school year. Apropos of the current debate regarding teacher evaluations— what better evaluation than from a student? Do school officials take into consideration these kinds of things when evaluating a teacher?
The letter got me thinking about the role of laughter in learning. Making learning fun is not an easy thing, and one of the best qualities a teacher can have is the ability to do just that. It is a challenge to come up with creative lesson plans that will engage students on a daily basis. Teachers have a difficult role in the classroom, but I also sympathize with students who yearn to be anywhere else but stuck in a classroom where “learning” is boring, repetitive, and seemingly useless. Effective teachers are constantly looking for ways to engage students and meet the “standards” creatively because there is nothing worse than having a classroom full of students who don’t see the point of what you are teaching. It’s not a pretty sight when students become bored—all sorts of mayhem can ensue!
I was especially gratified that a student deemed me “hilarious.” Teacher education programs should include a class on the importance of humor in the classroom. It’s the best way to capture students’ attention—it can create a positive atmosphere, and diffuse tense situations. Using humor sensitively can turn things around and resolve the thorniest of issues. Some of my students’ lives outside of school are difficult so that making them laugh while they are in my class is an accomplishment, the same sense of accomplishment that comes from getting them to read a challenging text or write a well-developed and supported essay.
I get a kick out of hearing students crack up when I mess around with them, like when I say “Dude, pull your pants up!” or “Girl, cover up those chichis”! Or when I tell a funny story about my own life to illustrate a point I am making with regards to a lesson. Positive humor can keep an audience enthralled, be it small children, adolescents, or adults. It is challenging to stand in front of a class of thirty students and keep their attention on you while directing a lesson. Many times I find my students are focused on me just simply waiting to hear what funny thing is going to come out of my mouth next. I’ll take that if it gets the job done. In my book, being deemed hilarious is great praise indeed.