Being a high school teacher requires a sense of humor. In a high school classroom you will encounter pranksters, gossips, ne’er-do-wells, cynics, and a whole slew of other teenagers well past their doe-eyed childhood. While children may adore their elementary school teachers, by high school this adoration has often waned. Sometimes teenage rebellion and adolescent angst has morphed eager-to-please youngsters into brooding, snappish proto-adults. A sense of humor can help prevent a teacher from blowing his or her stack as the flows of quips, complaints, and bickering never seem to cease.
First, a sense of humor is vital for a high school teacher because effective classroom management involves a dash of fun and strategic light-heartedness. Students will respect and appreciate teacher who can banter and laugh when the situation allows. Though many teachers say “I don’t care if my students like me,” it is important for teachers to avoid having students actively dislike them. An educator who eschews all humor and remains ramrod-stiff in his or her classroom demeanor will soon find behavioral problems mounting as students develop bad attitudes about his or her class. If students decide they don’t like a certain class they may begin to rebel against it by exhibiting bad behavior. “I just hate that class!” will be the popular excuse when being punished for misbehavior.
Teachers should never seek to be popular or play for laughs to boost their own self-esteem, which effectively transfers power from educator to pupil. However, being able to lighten the mood is an important tactic to restore classroom order and develop rapport with students. When students begin complaining about an assignment or project a joke or bit of banter from the teacher may help put the situation in perspective, eroding the bandwagon of griping. Also, a bit of humor may help redirect students’ attentions as needed: If students begin getting off task or picking on a fellow classmate a bit of well-timed banter or pratfall by the teacher can redirect attention to the subject at hand without requiring an awkward confrontation.
Secondly, humor is important for a teacher because a teacher will not win every battle. Flexibility is important, as is good strategy, in dealing with students who may not be doing what they are supposed to be doing. Rigid confrontation will not always win the day. Teens are often good at annoying teachers, and each other, will subtle digs and covert misbehaviors. Reacting to such subtleties with anger can make the teacher look irate, irrational, and may be the intentional goal of the misbehaving teen: “Baiting” the teacher is a controversial pastime of classroom ne’er-do-wells.
Being a humorless disciplinarian can create problems for a teacher as he or she resorts to writing endless office referrals for every suspected bit of misbheavior, earning the ire of school administrators. Teachers who lack any sense of humor and consistently respond with the “textbook” disciplinary response of an office referral or formal parent contact may quickly earn the reputation of a tyrant who is unable to manage the classroom and prevent misbehavior. A bit of humor, and allowing oneself to not be “baited” by teen pranksters, can save one’s reputation as a teacher. And, if pranksters see a teacher cannot be easily “baited,” they are likely to cool their efforts.
Third, humor is an important way to minimize awkwardness during a confrontation. Confronting a student is often necessary, but returning the classroom to the academic task at hand quickly is of great importance. Approaching a misbehaving student and launching into a scolding confrontation may put a damper on an ongoing classroom discussion or activity. Other students may feel awkward afterward, meaning the angry, scolding confrontation has put a “chilling effect” on the classroom. A confrontation with a bit of humor, such as beginning with “hey, I know this classroom may look like a barn/loony bin/playground/etc, but we can’t be _____________________” may help relax the mood even as the offender is returned to task.
Humor, rather than anger, may have better results in preventing a confrontation from becoming a class-interrupting experience due to teens’ desire to maintain their reputations. Being scolded with a hint of humor allows a teen an opportunity to avoid trouble while saving face. A scolded teen can “laugh with” the teacher and the class and return to his or her work, but a teen who is scolded with anger or open scorn may feel obligated to respond. This response escalates the confrontation and can interrupt the entire class.
Finally, as a teacher you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes. Getting teenagers’ attention sometimes requires you to be spontaneous, bombastic, and even goofy or silly. Though students may roll their eyes, they will appreciate a teacher who is willing to go the extra mile. Additionally, being able to laugh at oneself and be outlandish helps provide insulation from mockery: It’s harder to put down those who are willing to laugh at themselves. If students know you will laught at your own typos or mispronounced words they have less incentive to try to point them out to you in a mocking manner. It is important to let students know that they have no control over your self-image and self-esteem.
As one can see, it is important for high school teachers to be able to use humor to manage and redirect the classroom, as well as preserve their own sanity and reputation. Humor is a good pressure-release valve for a classroom, a way to attract the attention of apathetic students, and a way to make learning more fun. However, every teacher must know the limits and when to switch from good-natured humor to proactive disciplinarian: Relying too much on humor can lead to an erosion of classroom management. When students know that a fun and humorous teacher will not hesitate to enforce the rules the academic term will flow quite smoothly.