How to be Funny in the Classroom Guide for the Substitute Teacher (page 3)
How Can I Use my Sense of Humor in the Primary Grades?
Jenna Mathews began her day as a sub with a tear stained blouse, trying to console a six-year-old girl in her first-grade class. As the children entered the room, Jenna learned that two students had argued on the bus. Sarah came in crying uncontrollably. There was no way to calm her down. Jenna dried her tears, but the sobs continued, even when Jenna tried to distract her. This crying spell was escalating out of control.
The argument on the bus was over long ago, but the pain continued. Jenna knew that all the reasoning in the world would not make the crying stop. Because she was an experienced sub, Jenna Mathews began making very small crying sounds herself. Immediately Sarah quieted down and looked strangely at her sub. Ms. Mathews explained that if Sarah continued to cry, she would have to cry too since it was so sad to listen to those sobs. The more Ms. Mathews “cried,” the bigger the smile grew on Sarah’s face. Soon they were both laughing. Problem solved.
How Do I Know When Humor Will Work?
When you need to lighten up a situation, a smile is your best tool. It diffuses tension and shows that you are in control. It takes confidence to use humor effectively, and confidence is the image you want to project.
But you have to feel comfortable using humor in the classroom. If this is not authentic for you, then you shouldn’t even attempt it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t smile. For many teachers, however, the children are an audience and the classroom is their stage. Sometimes you have to be a dramatic actor, and sometimes you need to be a comedian.
A successful teacher and high school basketball coach from New York City once told me that he started each day with a joke for his students. The jokes were usually pretty corny, but over time, he developed excellent comic timing and delivery. His students began looking forward to his morning jokes and would object if he started a day without one. A bond was formed.
Because of his sense of humor, virtually every student considered Coach a great guy. It was obvious that he was comfortable with himself and comfortable with the students in his classes. By making the effort to find jokes for them each day, he demonstrated that he cared. Instant respect!
How Do I Know if a Joke is Appropriate?
Obviously, you must be very sensitive to content. It is never appropriate to tell a joke that has racial, sexual, or gender biased overtones—no matter how innocent it is or how many laughs it might get. Under no circumstance is it appropriate to tell a joke that indirectly ridicules a specific student or group of students. Never make a joke at the expense of a student. Stated bluntly, never tell a joke that you wouldn’t want to see printed in the newspaper under your picture.
Certain jokes are appropriate only for specific grade levels. Students in primary grades, for instance, love riddles and silly rhymes. They like jokes that they can remember and repeat to siblings and parents. Ask students to tell jokes and riddles to the group. They love to take the stage, and I have found that students listen to their classmates more than they listen to the teacher. Here is a joke that I learned from a first grader:
Question: Where are pencils made?
Answer: In Pennsylvania
Jokes for middle school students can be more sophisticated. Ideally, the humor you use with middle schoolers should have some direct relationship to their world.
Regardless of the types of jokes you choose or your application of humor to everyday classroom events, it’s important to be spontaneous. Humor and jokes bomb when they appear to be contrived or forced. Start out slowly and see how it goes.
It’s also important to recognize that smiles must be earned, especially when you’re dealing with middle school students. When you first meet a middle school class, a big smile might be misinterpreted by the students. As strange as it might seem, they may think of you as an easy mark—weak and insecure. Let students earn your smile. If you are particularly charmed by a comment or especially proud or touched by a special moment, let yourself smile to reward the situation.
Is It Ever Appropriate to Use Sarcasm Rather than Humor?
I’m against the use of sarcasm because it belittles the student and rarely accomplishes its intended goal. In many instances, students perceive a sarcastic remark as mean-spirited. However, some teachers find it to be effective for classroom management and use it effectively with older children.
Where Can I Find Good Jokes?
There are many books and websites with jokes that are appropriate for children and teenagers. Spend a few minutes visiting these websites:
- enchantedlearning.com/subjects/dinosaurs/Dinojokes.html—original dinosaur jokes
- brownielocks.com/jokes.html—jokes and riddles
- kidhumor.glowport.com—e-mails a joke a day
- myhumor.org—jokes for older students
- jokesbykids.com—jokes for and by kids
In addition, the following books will provide you with an excellent collection of jokes that can be used in the classroom:
- Kids’ Silliest Jokes by Jacqueline Horsfall and Buck Jones (Sterling, 2003)
- Knock, Knock! Who’s There? My First Book of Knock Knock Jokes by Tad Hills (Little Simon, 2000)
- The Treasury of Clean Teenagers’ Jokes by Tal D. Bonham (Broadman and Holman, 1997)
- 1001 Animal Quacker Jokes by Jasmine Birtles and David Mostyn (Constable and Robinson, 1998)
Remember, if it sounds like you’re reciting a joke, it will bomb. Be spontaneous and tell the joke in the proper context. In addition to jokes you can acquire from the sources I’ve just mentioned, here are a few situations and ways you can use humor with good results:
- I knew a high school PE teacher who required his students to wear the school gym shirt/uniform each day. One day a young man came with a messy, torn shirt with holes in it. The PE teacher said, “I told you to wear the gym shirt, not a golf shirt.”
“I am NOT wearing a golf shirt,” the student replied.
“Yes, you are,” said the teacher, “that shirt has 18 holes!”
- As part of a unit on first aid, a health teacher was teaching his students about poisons. With a straight face, he asked what they would do if a friend accidentally swallowed gasoline. He got some very astute answers. He then told the students that it actually happened to a student of his four years ago. The class asked, “What did you do?”
“I had him run around the track until he ran out of gas.”
And for younger students:
- What has four wheels and flies? A garbage truck
- What is a frog’s favorite drink? Croaka-Cola
- Why can’t your nose be twelve inches long? Because it would be a foot!
- Where do cows go on Saturday nights? To the mooovies
- Why didn’t the skeleton go to the movies? He had no body to go with.
Humor can be one of your most important tools in the classroom. It can be used as a tension reliever, to defuse a difficult situation, or simply as a way to break up the day. The following guidelines will help you use humor effectively:
- Cultivate a few effective jokes for each grade level and use them when the context warrants.
- Be spontaneous when you use humor. Smile and laugh with the students.
- Always be certain that any joke you tell is appropriate for the age level and the audience.
- Never tell a joke that is offensive.
- Try not to be sarcastic, and never ridicule a student.
Using humor in the classroom is an art. It gives you an opportunity to add some laughter to the lives of your students. Practice, experiment, and have fun with it.
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