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Should Teachers Be Funny, Use Humor in Class?

    Humor is an excellent teaching tool and there are many ways that it can be incorporated into the classroom without expecting the teacher to be a comedian. Personality and cultural context are determining factors in how funny a teacher can be. Learning is much more effective when students enjoy lessons. Classroom activities, fun games, and even classroom decorations contribute to a pleasant teaching experience and the successful transfer of knowledge.

    Why is Humor Important in Teaching?

    Humor is an important way to connect with people and can help students feel more connected to the material and their teacher. Humor has been used in the classroom for centuries. It is a great way to engage students and make them more receptive to the material being taught. . Humor is important because it fosters learning and builds strong relationships between students. Humor is also a way for educators to remain lighthearted during, and after, rigorous lectures or classes. It also gives educators an opportunity to rest their minds by having fun with their students, who will have a blast.

    A study by Dr. Robert Provine at the University of Maryland found that humor can make people feel more connected to each other, even if they don’t share a common language or culture.

    “Humour is an effective way to overcome barriers of space and time, providing a break in the conversation, that enables participants to forget their usual background differences and temporarily become part of something larger,” Provine said. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 2016.

    How Humor Helps Students

    Humor is an important tool in the classroom because it helps students to retain information better. A study found that students who were engaged in a humorous activity for 20 minutes were able to recall more information than those who didn’t. The most obvious forms of humor are telling jokes, sharing cartoons and playing games.

    Blending humor with learning can help students not only remember the material but also make them understand how they learn better by using critical thinking skills.

    How to Use Humor Effectively in Class

    Humor is a powerful tool in the classroom when it is relevant and spontaneous, it’s not about telling jokes for kids. This article explores the benefits of humor in the classroom, but also what to avoid.

    Humor is an important tool in any teacher’s arsenal. It can help students learn more effectively and make lessons more engaging, and is a powerful tool for creating a sense of community.

    In order to create humor, we need to understand the audience and their culture. Humor can be offensive in some cultures and not in others. It is important to know the type of humor that will work best with your audience.

    The following are some examples of different types of humor that you can use:

    • Self-deprecating humor: poking fun at oneself or one’s own flaws
    • Sarcasm: using irony to mock or ridicule
    • Irony: using words to mean something other than what they usually mean
    • Understatement: making an obvious statement but saying it as if it were not obvious

    Ways Teachers Use Humor in Lessons

    Humor has been proven to be beneficial for both teachers and students. It can help make lessons more memorable, and it can also help with student engagement. There are many ways that teachers can incorporate humor into their lessons when they share the language and culture of the students.

    Three ways that teachers can use humor in their lessons are:

    • Use funny stories: Teachers can use funny stories to make a lesson more memorable, or they could use them as examples to teach a point.
    • Use jokes: Jokes are another great way for teachers to incorporate humor into their lessons because they often require little preparation on the teacher’s end.
    • Use games and exercises: Games and exercises are a fun, interactive way for students to learn important skills. Teachers can come up with their own games or find existing ones that make use of the skill they’re teaching.

    Humor helps in breaking tension or awkwardness between the teacher and the students, which is why icebreakers are a standard method for starting a lecture or lesson, especially if the speaker and the audience are unfamiliar.

    Humor helps in making a point more memorable or helping to break down complex concepts into simpler ones.

    It is important to consider the age of students when using humor in a classroom setting. Younger students might find jokes about bodily functions or potty talk funny, but these jokes might not be appropriate for older students.

    Use humor to create memorable moments and to reward good work.

    By being creative teachers can use topics that are humorous, allowing students to have pleasurable and memorable lessons. Find fun ways to engage and inspire students. There is a strong correlation between enjoyment and learning.

    The Pros and the Cons of Humor

    The use of humor in the college classroom has been researched extensively and has been shown to have many benefits for students some of which are:

    • An increase in learning.
    • An increase in self-motivation.
    • An increase in class attendance.
    • An increase in test performance.
    • An increase in divergent thinking.
    • An increase of interest in learning.
    • A reduction of anxiety and stress in dealing with difficult material.
    • The creation of a positive social and emotional learning environment.
    • The creation of a common psychological bond between students and faculty.

    We all know that teaching is serious business, but teachers do not have to be serious to be effective. Humor can also lead to the establishment of student-teacher rapport, which is another characteristic of master teachers. They also found that students report they not only learn a great deal from humorous teachers, but they also enjoy the process of learning from them.

    Teaching is no popularity contest

    What students think and reality in education are two different things. The most popular teacher in school is not necessarily the best teacher. Teachers should never be in a popularity contest but be as effective as their natural personality allows them to be.

    Students usually say that when a teacher uses humor in the classroom, they learn more, like the teacher more, are more likely to talk to their instructor outside the classroom, are more likely to seek help from their instructor about how to do better in the class, are more likely to enroll in that instructor’s classes, and are more likely to give that instructor higher student evaluation scores at the end of the semester.

    Students could be unanimous in their opinion that it is possible to learn and have fun at the same time. However, all of the above is true in theory and when the teacher has a natural, humoristic personality. But the majority of educators are not born comedians and should never try to be funny just because students like funny teachers more. 

    When it is not funny at all

    Teachers should carefully avoid using:

    • Negative humor that involves demeaning or embarrassing students.
    • Humor that students do not “get” because they lack the background knowledge necessary to understand it.
    • Humor that is irrelevant to the subject matter being taught.
    • Humor that includes disturbing, violent, or sexual content or references to minority groups.
    • Humor that fails to be humorous because it is delivered in an awkward, rehearsed or embarrassing manner.

    Failed attempts at humor

    When their sense of humor is not congruent with the majority of their students. Failed jokes make the teacher look like a jackass. The following are real examples:

    • He messed up a joke, and I completely shut down from what he said.
    • My biology teacher is not funny, and this makes me lose focus in class.
    • My speech teacher tried to use humor, but she wasn’t really very funny, so it didn’t help.
    • I had a calculus instructor who would say he had jokes for us. There was never a punch line, so they were really just stories. I think he had the words “joke” and “story” confused.
    • I have an instructor in a history class who tries to use humor all of the time, but more often than not he is the only one laughing. He often resorts to bad puns.
    • I couldn’t understand the teacher’s humor because English was not his first language.

    Age and culture inhibit humor

    A big failure is to understand students’ level of understanding of humor and the information being taught. This is even more true when the teacher does not share the culture of the students. Idiomatic language is only understood where culture is shared. Even where culture is shared students do not understand old idioms because of fast-changing technology and social context. Many idiomatic phrases with Biblical context are now in disuse and not understood.

    • Telling jokes about subjects students don’t know.
    • Telling long stories with no punchline.
    • Telling intellectual jokes that students do not understand.
    • Making irrelevant “funny” literary references that students don’t understand or care about.

    Sarcasm is a Big No

    Offensive, rude language is no joke in a classroom. Sarcasm must never be used, especially not in cross-cultural situations such as teaching ESL. Cursing is a sure sign of a poor vocabulary, a lack of respect for others and should never be used by persons supposed to be role models. 

    Trying too hard to be funny

    Humor doesn’t work when the teacher is by nature not funny but tries to be anyway.  

    • The instructor was awkward, and his humor seemed to be rehearsed.
    • One of my instructors tries to use “slang” or “lingo” that pertains to the student’s generation. While it can be funny, it holds no educational value.
    • Making stupid comments or say something they think is “hip” or of the younger generation, but it’s just not funny when they do it.

    A student should not be the subject

    Jokes should never be about particular students.

    • One of my instructor’s ideas of humor is to pick on particular students in a negative manner. Though it is supposed to be funny, I spend more time focusing on how the students feel than on what I’m supposed to be learning.
    • Some instructors use humor when students haven’t done so well on tests, and it makes students feel bad.
    • I have a teacher who thinks it’s funny to joke about how difficult a test is or how badly her previous students have done — not funny.

    Other failures at humor

    Humor that is unrelated to the subject matter of the class.

    • When they tell jokes that do not relate to the class at all. I do not like this because it takes away time I could be learning.
    • Sometimes professors use humor just to take up class time, and we don’t accomplish much. 

    Humor that is out-of-date

    • When an instructor makes references to old TV sitcoms that none of us can relate to.

    Laughing at one’s own jokes

    • One of my old teachers always laughed at her own jokes, so I kind of zoned her out.

    Humor that backfires

    • I had a high school teacher who always tried to cover his mistakes with a joke, but he always ended up looking like a fool instead.

    When to refrain from humor

    How did your students respond to your joke or story?

    • Did they laugh and appear to enjoy your humor?
    • Did they fail to “get” your joke or seem puzzled by your story?
    • Did they appear to be angry or offended?
    • Did they roll their eyes and give you the impression that you said something stupid? 

    If they often respond in the other, less positive ways, I suggest you refrain from using humor in your classroom. Period. The negatives far outweigh the positives.

    In summary

    If you are not funny and humoristic by nature, then do not try to be a comedian, but use activities to make lessons enjoyable, make class a positive experience, give students creative, humorous topics to let them laugh.  

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