Justin Meyer
Justin Meyer
Senior Lecturer of Chemistry, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Teacher.jpgIf you have been following my past posts you are aware that I like to embrace being an edutainer through the use of humor.  I have expressed some of the benefits of this with respect to student engagement, but wanted to also address some other benefits.

 

Using humor in the classroom makes you more approachable.

 

I have a deep baritone voice and stand close to six feet eight inches (perhaps this is why students are always looking up to me?). This combination can be a little intimidating to students when they are first introduced to me.  To be honest, I think some students are just downright scared of me, as my natural demeanor is a serious one.  Early in my teaching career I would get comments on student opinion surveys along the lines of “I met with Dr. Meyer and he was a real person”.  This statement, although humorously written, pointed out a serious issue I had.  Students didn’t view me as someone they could easily approach to ask a question. Either that, or they thought I was a wooden puppet.

 

After taking the effort to add humor into my classroom, I no longer see comments like this and I find that I get exponentially more “have a good day Dr. Meyer” statements as students leave the classroom.  This may seem like a small thing in the grand picture but I would argue that it is not.  Students that are doing this feel a connection with me and are going to be much more likely to stop for a second and ask a question or stop by my office when they have questions..  I even find that some students will go out of their way to send me jokes or tell me a funny joke they heard (which I can’t often use, but their material is actually funny).

 

Humor can make a situation less stressful

 

When it comes to stressful situations I think there can be two sides to the coin here.  There can be stress for the students as well as for the instructor of the course.  It really can help to try to take the seriousness out of the classroom.  One of my favorite sayings is “don’t take life too seriously, as you are never going to get out alive”.  Some classrooms can seem as serious as a heart attack, and that isn’t comfortable for anyone, and it seems logical that the more relaxed a student is the easier it can be for them to focus and perform at a higher level.

 

As an instructor in a large class, or even a small class for that matter, it can be stressful to stand up and present information.  There is a reason that people are so afraid of public speaking.  This fear used to be a fairly significant issue for me in my early years.  I think I did a good job of hiding this, but um, I did have some, um, issues, um, that made it fairly evident that I was not 100% comfortable in front of a class.  I did learn to hide those ‘um’ issues better after a while, but what I think helped me the most was to add some humor into the classroom.  I found that something as simple as a joke to start the day was the icebreaker I needed to relax and start my presentation.

 

Something else that seems to help me is to joke about my own mistakes in class.  We have all made mistakes during class, and when a student points that out it can sometimes lead to an uncomfortable situation.  Either it can throw you off the rhythm you may have established or bring in some fear that your credibility has been hurt in front of an entire class.  Many of us have experienced the student whose one goal is to find errors in everything you present.  One way I have found to combat that pain in the neck, is that I often intentionally make mistakes in math problems I present to see if the class is paying attention.  So when I do make a mistake, unintentionally, I can then joke that it was intentional, as are all my mistakes.

 

The other side of the coin here is the stress that students experience from time to time in class.  This is, of course, escalated during a quiz or exam.  Again,it can really help to start off with a joke.  One great one I like to use is set up by asking if there are any questions before an exam.  Of course with all the joking around I will often get a “How about the answer to a question?”  To which I replay, “Okay, I will give you one answer… A”.  This is a multiple choice exam, so of course one of the answers is A, but I don’t tell them which question.  Again, it often gets a little laugh and students relax and the anxiety is lowered a bit before we get started.

 

So, if you seem to have some issues with students communicating with you or with public speaking, consider taking the seriousness out of the classroom.  It may help, and you may have some fun doing it.

 

What benefits of classroom humor have you discovered? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

 

Image Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock