Humor – A Double-Edged Sword in a Classroom

This is the first week of the summer. I’m spending it at a week-long training on Digital Curriculum and what we, as the school technology teacher leaders, are going to present to the rest of our staff one week this summer. There is a group of 7 of us from my school, many of whom will be joining me at ISTE later this month. We’ve been to 5 or 6 of these trainings already, and we all get along really well.

We are using Office 365 to collaborate on notes of what we’ve learned through this training. These notes quickly become filled with jokes, memes, and side comments. These comments never become offensive or inappropriate (this is school network, software, and hardware after all), but they do cause us to laugh. Sometimes, this laughter could be distracting to the presenters and other teachers. While this isn’t constant, and is generally contained by those present, I can understand the frustration this may cause to the presenters.

On the flip side, it keeps me paying attention. That may sound counter-intuitive (much like everything else I say), but for me it is true. I listen closer when I’m looking for things to make a joke about. I focus better when I have an outlet for my excess energy. I hear more when I want to make sure that I’ll understand that jokes others make. And when I start to get off task, and see someone else’s joke or comment, I start paying attention again.

In a classroom, we all know that humor is hugely beneficial. Any teacher that has even a weak sense of humor has seen it get students more involved in a less, even if they’re laughing at you and not with you. Any student will tell you that a “funny teacher” is a “good teacher” (and, admittedly, that isn’t always a straight equality, but I would at least consider a high percentage of correlation).

Just as surely, we can all name a time where the humor got out of control. Whether the student takes it too far, or like happens to me more often than I’d like to admit, I get lost in my own joke/story and start grasping for any connection to content, the result is the same: humor has hurt you.

My question/concern becomes this: If we give students the power to “chat” in a document, will this help or hurt them?

At the end of the day, much like any other strategy or tool, you have to define the line. If we tell students that some humor is OK, but that it can’t get far enough to distract you from the lesson.

Also, much like anything else, some teachers will be resistant to this release of their control. It’s easy to hear a student say a joke, talk in the middle of class, or distract their classmates. It isn’t as easy to monitor their online communication. They will figure it out though. They will find a way.

So what’s the better choice: Finding the line that works for you or fighting a losing battle of tyrannical control?