Why a Sense of Humor is Key to Surviving as a Teacher

When you were a kid, didn’t you think it was great fun taunting the teacher? Well, now the tables are turned, and you’d better find a strong sense of humor or go find another job. I must confess that I was actually a true member of the teaching ranks for less than six years of my adult life, but I can still remember very clearly when I needed humor to make it through a tough day in the classroom.

My first teaching job was every summer between World War II and the Korean War. As a Navy reserve CPO and weekend warrior in an organized carrier group at a Naval Air Station, I went on eight-week active duty stints as a recruit instructor. I thought I was pretty hot stuff, WWII ribbons on my chest, making CPO at age 22, and showing those lowly boots how cool I was.

Toward the end of the program, we put the recruits through a simulated raid on the station’s aircraft hangars. They had to dress all in black like Ninjas and fake their attack. They carried along signs that read: THIS AIRCRAFT IS DESTROYED. Because the regular guards at the airfield were alerted, they cooperated in allowing the recruits … mostly 18-year-olds … to conduct their fake raid without interference.

Happy to get some time to myself, I stayed behind in my room in the barracks and went to sleep. When I awoke the next morning, there was a big sign on top of my chest, reading THIS CHIEF HAS BEEN DESTROYED. I certainly needed a strong sense of humor to endure the taunts by my students. Incidentally, many of them went on to study at Annapolis and earn their wings at Navy flight schools.

Another funny event happened when I was on the faculty of a university for five years. Among my duties was to supervise the student daily newspaper and its staff of journalism majors. I thought I was a liberal guy, but apparently the staff considered me somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan in my political thinking. Although I often lectured on the benefits of capitalism and free enterprise, I always sided with the editors whenever they printed something that offended some professor, sports fans or other campus untouchables. However, I took it as my faculty duty to keep a lid on the extent of their youthful satire and criticism of the university faculty.

We published every Friday, and I usually looked over the issue when it came back from the print shop. I’d praise those editors I thought had done a good job, and criticized those whose work needed improvement. On one particular Friday, the senior editor handed me the new edition. As I started to read it, I noticed that everyone else on the staff were edging toward me with grins on their faces.

When I opened the newspaper, I was shocked at what I read. All the major headlines were the foulest of the foul curse words. There was a grossly pornographic photo on the front page. On some stories in the body of the page, I could see a slightly smaller headline revealing that I had committed some awful sexual crime with the 80-year-old dean of the Library Science Department.

Furious, I was about to call campus security, when the senior editor pointed to the date line: April 1. Did I have a sense of humor about that? Well, after some heavy calming down by the staff, and a look at the real weekly newspaper for the day, I joined in on the laughter. Incidentally, I saved the fake newspaper and showed it, not to the dean, but to some of the appreciative younger members of the Library Science Department.