Humor can help build student-teacher bonds and achieve camaraderie!
People are hungry to bond with people—especially in the alienated, non-face-to-face world in which we live. In an ideal world, the relationship between a teacher and a class is so highly developed that both the teacher and the students feel they can safely express themselves (question material, make an observation, etc.). If used correctly, humor can help make this happen.
Humor might take the form of “inside” jokes between the teacher and the class that are nurtured and developed over the course of the semester. It can also evolve into what anthropologists have witnessed in many cultures–the joking relationship. A joking relationship can be between two people or done with an entire class. Let me give some examples:
- When I discuss folkways (the minor norms/rules of society), I explain to students that there are literally thousands of folkways in a classroom that are understood and never mentioned. One semester, I mentioned that one folkway is sitting in chairs, and I pointed out that I never said they had to sit in chairs. The next class period, I walked into the classroom and found that the students had removed all of the chairs and were all sitting on the floor on mats. We definitely had a joking relationship that made learning a pleasure.
- During another class back in 2007, a coworker came to my classroom door and told me that I had an urgent phone call. I told my class “sternly” not to go anywhere while I was away. When I came back, the room was empty and the lights were out. Noticing that the classroom door next to mine was closed, I opened it. The entire class jumped out and surprised me. Last week, a student from that class stopped me at Kroger and reminded me of that event.
- In yet another class, I was talking about how we all, to some degree, have to deal with feelings of powerlessness. Using myself as an example, I said that I can play guitar, but people don’t exactly line up to hear me play. I mentioned Elvis Presley as an example of a person who commanded a great deal of personal charisma—so powerful that women would hurl “unmentionables” at him while he was on stage. The next class period, several female students suddenly started looking at their watches and smiling. All at once, I was “pelted” with, well, you know. So, now who holds the power?
- In a final example, I was explaining how management styles relate to power and influence. I mentioned in passing that I personally didn’t feel comfortable with close supervision. When I entered the class the next day, the president of HCC was sitting in class and said that he had just stopped by to observe my teaching practices. My class even got the President in on the joke.
I imagine that many of you are thinking back to classes you’ve taught where humor produced a strong sense of cohesiveness that ultimately lead to increased student engagement and learning—even loyalty to the subject matter and the learning experience.
pleasureteam notes: Tune in next Monday for the next installment of Dr. Felton’s “The Two-Joke Minimum.” In the meantime, we would love to hear about any insider jokes that have developed in your classes.