One of my students, realizing how ridiculous the whole academic goal-setting is, decided to write “Translate the Bible into palindrome.” I hope he does. He’s the same student who wrote a few questions about time travel, worm holes, the expansion of the universe and questions of quantum physics, but then followed it up with, “Does a Flux Capacitor work on a Chevy or does it have to be a DeLorean?” I affirm his humor, knowing that it’s a bit sophisticated for some thirteen year olds. Someday he’ll realize he’s funny, but the insecurities of no one laughing might just drown it out.
Another student views an article a student had written last year and whispers to his friend, “Disneyland is not the happiest place on Earth. It’s nothing but long lines and lame rides. Want to go to the happiest place on Earth? Visit a strip club.” I seize the moment and talk about respect for women and how we view humanity and yet I affirm his sense of humor. Professionalism might knock it out of him. Yes, it’s crass, but it’s also shocking and smart in a way. If he can refine it and learn to use it at the right time, it will be a gift.
One of the best parts of teaching middle school is the often unexpected and bizarre moments when humor occurs. I’ve worked in offices and the humor is often rehashed movie lines or really bad puns. But I laugh on a daily basis as a middle school teacher.
I used to believe that humor was a mask. I thought that students were using it to avoid being known. Perhaps this is true for the class clown. But over time I realized the risk of a joke. At that age, the silence of the crowd can be deafening. A few rolled eyes can crush a soul. So, when students venture out and offer humor, I now see it as a moment of courage. I see it as a small victory of character. Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to turn my classroom into an improv club. However, one of the best parts of teaching is when humor breaks through revealing that there is more to life than the core curriculum.