I always wished I were a funny teacher. It seemed I was always teaching down the hall from side-splitting, knee-slapping jocular types. And with their antics, these teachers drew students into easy rapport. In their classes students wanted to pay attention—they never knew what was coming next. And they learned. Laugher, after all, produces endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters that open the brain for learning.
From down the hall, I’d listen to the laughter. I’d sit at my desk thinking about how seriously I took teaching and how I never could tell a joke. And I’d wonder how I could bring any kind of levity to my students. Well, I never did learn to tell a joke, but I found that, although I couldn’t be funny, I could be fun, and was that almost as good.
If you aren’t funny either, here are some tricks of the trade:
- Borrow humor—If I didn’t have it in me, I could find it around me. So I added cartoons to my slides, read a witty story, or played a funny video clip.
- Keep a sense of humor—Classrooms are full of craziness. But I learned that if I could change the frame—react to the absurdities in front of me with grace and lightness instead of with defensiveness, humor came into my classroom on its own, for free. Finding amusement in the tomfoolery of middle school students turned what could be conflict into a gift.
- Laugh—Even if you can’t tell a joke, you can appreciate one. And what students care about more than a funny teacher is being funny themselves. Especially when the joke was on me, I learned not to take myself so seriously.
- Be playful—Play is the brain’s favorite way to learn, and the best play is hard. This is why people labor over the daily crossword puzzle in The Washington Post and why my grandchildren try endlessly to achieve the perfect bar spin on their scooters. My students learned more Greek and Latin roots through games than they ever did with a study sheet.
One day as a student was leaving my class, she turned back toward me at the door.
“You’re funny, Mrs. Swartz,” she said.
She was wrong, of course.
But I did learn to have fun with my students. And sometimes while they were laughing, I’d open the classroom door, hoping the funny teacher down hall would hear.