An Excerpt from Thoughts for Effective Teaching by Tiffany Tyndall — The Entirety of 4. Find the Funny in Life

Teaching is hard, isn’t it?  No one really knows how hard it is unless they’ve done it themselves.  It’s a thankless job, for sure.  So to help keep yourself from falling too far into the hole of despair, try to find the funny in life!  And feel free to reveal this humor, when appropriate, to your students.

Students love a funny teacher.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be an award-winning stand-up comedian.  You don’t even have to be that funny.  Just be yourself and laugh at your quirks and try to make witty comments as long as they don’t hurt others or draw too much attention away from the lesson.

Even the tone of your voice can be humorous to listen to.  This goes a long way to helping students pay attention, and it allows us as teachers to not be so serious.  Speak as you would at a carnival, with your voice making multiple inflections with each sentence.  Sometimes the sound of your voice alone is all that it takes to lighten the mood and put a smile on your face and your students’ faces.

Practice: “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen!  Come see the juggling seal!”  Now transfer to lesson talk: “Today we’re going to review how to find topic sentences!  Turn to page 54 in your red book!  Team 1 is ready!  So is team 5!  Thank you team 3!  Still waiting on Team 4 and Team 2!  Who will it be?  A race to the finish!”

You don’t have to be loud and obnoxious about it; just be interesting and a bit fun, if you can bear it.  If you don’t have a fun bone in you or you’re still recovering from the class last period (or even the entire last week), try to make yourself step out of the grumpy mood for a few moments.  Just try.  Talk about how scary today’s lunch was or how confusing the topic du jour is and how you’ve been pulling your hair out all day and expect to be bald by recess (even funnier to students who don’t have recess anymore).  You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get your groove back.  Teaching won’t be such a chore.

If students aren’t laughing, don’t worry.  The point isn’t so much to make them laugh as it is to throw off, like you would a trench coat, the dullness of the job (admit it: sometimes it’s more boring to teach than it is to learn; though, wouldn’t it be spectacular if learning (and teaching!) could be a little less boring?).  Have some fun while you teach; be a little less pessimistic and a little more optimistic and you’ll start feeling better inside.

If you find that certain students are pushing your buttons and you feel the urge to lose your temper, try making a non-hurtful sarcastic remark that will get your point across without bruising anyone’s ego too much.  “At it again, Dillon?  Give this old lady a break, will ya?  I only have hearing left in one ear and I’d rather save it for hearing my own voice.  You know how much I luuuv listening to myself.  You’ll get your turn to talk all you want in about 14 minutes (time left in the period).”  That’s a little overboard, but the idea is to be goofy/silly (yet still a bit serious and business-like) with tongue-in-cheek comments that throw off the vibe from ready-to-burst-into-screams to is-she-wacko-or-what.

Sometimes it’s a positive thing to get students to just think you’re weird.  They’ll pay attention just to catch the weirdness.  Just make sure you make fun of yourself out loud every now and then (all in jest, of course, all in jest) but emphasize that you are the only one who gets to make fun of yourself.  Keep it light, fresh, and non-hurtful.

If the joking thing is just not your style, fret not.  Introduce other kinds of “funny” into your classroom like sharing a humorous comic from the paper.  Students might not get your humor, but the idea is to show them that you take the time to enjoy life, to laugh at simple things.

Share funny stories from your life.  Tell them about things that annoy you, like waiting in line at the supermarket for an unreasonable amount of time, but put a funny twist on it, like how the check out lady probably didn’t finish the seventh grade and doesn’t know her numbers.  Stuff like that might sound a little mean (and admittedly risky since any one of your students’ parents could actually work the check-out lines), but as long as the characters in your stories are anonymous, then it’s not really hurting anyone (hopefully not, anyway), especially if you try to make an educational point like about staying in school.

When students see that you have a humorous outlook on life and that you strive to enjoy the time you live on this earth, they might not try so hard to make your life miserable.  The funny germ is contagious, even to your own self.  You’ll find that you’ll start going out of your way to make your lessons funny so that students better enjoy learning from you.  Students will start being funnier with you in a respectful way.  Students will begin doing more laughing with you than at you.

This doesn’t mean that every second of every day you’ll be doing cartwheels and laughing your head off.  It just means that you’ll be more positive instead of negative so that even when your hardest day hits, you’ll still be able to see the silver lining.  Without cultivating a sense of humor, you’ll find that teaching becomes dry and a bit oppressive.  Combat this with the funny you find in everyday life.  And remember to share the appropriate stuff with your students when you can.  It makes the teaching day so much more enjoyable.

Thoughts for Effective Teaching: Maintaining Perspective and Remaining Reflective While in the Trenches of Teaching by Tiffany Tyndall is available for purchase here.

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