Sunday, November 11, 2012

Acting : Humor in the Classroom

          “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” Mark Twain
“Humor is the affectionate communication of insight. “Leo Rosten
 Humor is important to me and I use it often in my classes. I make no apologies about it. There is a fine line between a stand up routine and using humor as a tool to focus on an event or topic, to create transitions in class, moving from one activity to the next or just to draw the class closer together in a common sharing of a story or idea. Okay, so sometimes, I do both but never at the same time and sometimes not even in the same hemisphere (of the brain), but they are always related to my subject…most of the time.

I have given workshops in both Drama and Comedy in the Classroom for teachers. It never amazes me how little humor we have in our profession or how scared we are to be humorous because we are afraid to reveal aspects of ourselves to our students. This is because we confuse laughter with Humor. Notice I am not talking about laughter and humor together. There are good reasons not to do this. Laughter and humor are qualitatively different phenomena. Laughter is an event in the physical world. Humor is a construct. I am speaking solely about the construct. We can control the humor to our benefit and our students.

At the beginning of ever school year we talk about hurricane season and what we are expected to do in our community. During the Hurricanes of 2004 season we were hit by three hurricanes so I share this little anecdote with my students. (You should know this about me before you read this and that is I am a large man 2x to 3x large.)

The Red Cross and the military brought in cases of bottle water for the families that live in my neighbor near Lake Okeechobee, since all the electricity was out in the area, our water pumps didn’t work for weeks at a time. Generally people would use only one bottle of water for bathing per two or three days, however my wife knew the truth…I was a two bottle man.

I paused and waited to see their response. Moments of quiet can be a wonderful tool for thinking. They looked at me for a moment and then I held my hands to my side and the kids realized, that I am a large round man. Some of them began to understand, and then it begins. First with a few snickers or disgusted looks and it works its way around the class with quite laughter or an oh, my gosh expressions until nearly everyone gets it. I am fat. The best and most effective cooperative learn activity that day and they didn’t even realize what they were doing.

Now, I take that cooperative moment and have them either write about their own experiences during those same Hurricanes in a journal or at a class blog or texting their story in 140 character moments on Twitter among friends or go to Google docs and create one document where all 30-35 students can share their experiences.

A fellow teacher friend of mine who attended one of my workshops and who isn’t found of humor in the classroom herself, tried one in her literature classes and she told me the kids were stunned that she “told a joke”. It made her smile and it stayed with her the rest of the day. The students went back to work wondering what had happen to their teacher. I know because they also told me.

Humor is a tool just like a computer is a tool or white book markers are tools or Google is a tool. It is how we use our tools as teachers that help our students grow and develop.
 Now if the result from your anecdote is laughter than you have bonded the humor and laughter as one. Hey, here is something most people forget. Kids (students) love to laugh and they will love you for it.

"Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” Victor Borge
Last but not least, humor is also good for one’s mental health. We seem to live in a world of standardized examinations in which many children are overwhelmed with anxiety for fear of being cited as a failure by administration, teachers and parents. I have found it useful to have them read something humorous to cut the tension before taking the exam. Here is an example of a story that I’ve used as the introduction to one of my semester exam and you are welcome to use it as I did.

Something for you to read before you take this Semester Exam. Enjoy.

According to a radio report, a middle school in Oregon was faced with a unique problem. A number of girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints.
Finally the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the custodian. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every day. To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, she asked the custodian to clean one of the mirrors. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it into the toilet and then cleaned the mirror. Since then there have been no lip prints on the mirror 

Re-print from Nov. 2010