Why Teachers Need to Laugh by Leanne Shirtliffe
I’ve only known Leanne for about 9 months, but it feels like I have known her forever. And I mean that in a good way. Not the way you would say that about some weird cousin or something, you know when you roll your eyes. She’s like one of my blogging besties. For reals.
I like to imagine that — one day — we will stop Skyping and sit side by side. I could listen to her Canadian accent for hours. That thought makes me feel funny inside. But in a good touch way. Because that’s the way we roll like thunder under our cyber-blankets.
I have no idea what that means. Follow Leanne’s blog HERE or stalk her on Twitter at @Lshirtliffe, eh?
Like Renée, I love good wordplay. If it crosses the line of appropriateness, I love it all the more. I am constantly saying what I shouldn’t.
This started in high school. I remember sitting in twelfth grade chemistry class; I had handcuffed my lab partner to me because he wouldn’t sit still and do his share of the work.
My teacher was my volleyball coach, a man who had a good sense of humor and knew me well. I sat at the desk with my Texas Instruments calculator and my partner, desperately trying to write up the lab before going out-of-town for a weekend tournament. Our Friday afternoon class, meanwhile, went sideways and launched into a spirited, circular discussion on the pronunciation of certain words.
Different students bandied options about. Even our teacher, whose first name was Richard, participated eagerly.
“Is it to-MAY-to or to-MAH-to?”
“How about of-FEN or of-TEN?”
“What about po-TAY-to or po-TAH-to?”
“Is it HER-bal or ER-bal?”
A loud debate ensued. I sat there, rubbing my wrist, trying to finish the lab. Shane, my partner, sat there too. He had little choice.
Frustrated, I decided to have the last word. I raised my hand and looked directly at my teacher.
“Is it Rick… or Dick?”
The class shifted in silence.
My teacher stood wide-eyed, staring back at one of his top students. He paused and said, “Get to work. Everyone.”
I had crossed the line.
• • •
Now that I teach eighth and ninth grade English, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of students who cross the line. I also know that I still cross the line, unwittingly in the classroom. My capacity to embarrass myself as a teacher is limitless.
Every class, I write an agenda on the board. Most days I do this hurriedly as students rush in and take their seats; in the interest of haste, I take shortcuts, scrawling abbreviations of the day’s tasks on the whiteboard.
On more than one occasion, I’ve written agendas like the following:
This agenda appears to belong to an edgy sexual education class, rather than to one doing literary analysis and oral assessments. Try explaining this to fourteen year olds who are in various hilarious stages of hyperventilation and full-out laughter.
Lately, I’ve found myself in as semi-serious discussion, explaining the terms wet-nurse, weaning, and “ho”.
Thank you, Shakespeare, for helping us to giggle through Romeo and Juliet.
My biggest bonehead move occurred a few years ago. I was trying to explain what a static character was to my ninth graders. I knew they had all studied S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders two years ago. Keep in mind that when I’m teaching, I tend to scoot across the room like Mary Poppins, enthusiastic, gesticulating, and full of self-importance caffeine.
Do you remember Dally from The Outsiders? Let’s examine him. He was a hard character. He remained hard throughout the whole novel. In every aspect, he was hard. He never changed. His hardness was evident from the first page to the end of the novel.
Evidently I too am a static character.
Thank God for laughter.
And thank God for the continual reminders that it is healthy to laugh at ourselves.
What do you remember laughing about in the classroom?